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PARAMETERS OF A NEW IDEOLOGY
Reviewed by ANDRE BEAUMONT
Are all the mainstream political ideologies fit for the 21st century?
It may not be going away but is socialism, for instance, a doctrine better suited to the last two centuries than this one?
It directs its political loyalty towards a particular class, tries to maintain discipline amongst its rank and file and is run by elite cadres. Are these characteristics appealing in the new millennium?
Demography is agin it. As a percentage of the population, that class is in decline nearly everywhere.
Non-inclusive ideologies have lukewarm appeal. Strict discipline and anything akin to a nomenklatura are not to everyone's taste.
Market liberalism, sometimes allied with social democracy, sometimes with conservatism is in rampant form but will it survive so well as its excesses show its deficiencies and its allies feel compelled to partially disown it?
The Occupy movement showed up a weariness with old ideologies.
It produced two strong political ideas - 'we are the 99%' and its consistent refusal to accept hierarchical organization.
'We are the 99%' certainly annoyed the 1% as the latter probably played its part in rolling up the movement.
The refusal to accept hierarchical organization, however, annoyed the Left. It sent representatives down to the camps to try and 'educate' the movement into making demands, totally missing the point.
Had the movement acquiesced, it could then have easily been dismissed as a form of outdoor trade union.
Had the movement continued for a few more months and progressed a little ideologically, there is an outside chance that the implicit demand for less hierarchical organization could have replaced the demand for greater equality as the mass demand of the 21st century.
Many political ideologies have an unattainable component.
Socialism's is equality.
Market liberalism's is absolutely free markets.
Conservatism is usually more practical.
A political movement that seeks less hierarchical organization is no more utopian than socialism or market liberalism.
When an approximation to equality has been achieved - Lenin's Russia or Democratic Kampuchea - the results have been appalling.
When an approximation to non-hierarchy has been achieved - as with the internet (which nevertheless has its hierarchical elements) - the results have often not been ideal but far from appalling.
Low hierarchy seems more suited to the 21st century than near equality as more people derive the benefits of technological and scientific advance.
Equality and no hierarchy can often be close cousins.
The difference is shown up by the example of a visit to the filling station.
Equality is not fully available at the filling station (and certainly not from the pump). If you have less money to spend you will get less fuel and other goods.
The station, though, is essentially non-hierarchical. If you have a car with a large engine you do not go to the front of the queue because you are likely to spend more on fuel; you wait in line.
Equality less easily tolerates difference. It may frown upon you arriving in a limousine or large horsepower sports car and may even allocate you a fixed quota of fuel.
Non-hierarchy accepts difference and distinction but does not allow them to confer precedence (other than in limited contexts).
A commonly heard complaint is that societal change cannot come about because there is a lack of ready made ideas to displace old ideologies that have been tried.
So what might an ideology fit for the 21st century look like?
It would be better if it did not fit neatly on the Left-Right axis that has partly characterized political ideologies since the late Roman republic.
Environmentalism, which has many sound ideas, has disappointed quite a few in recent years by positioning itself on this axis.
A new ideology might have the following core ideas:
1) It seeks a low hierarchy society;
2) It abolishes personal taxation in favour of taxes wherever value is added;
3) It seeks to move all government employment onto a three day a week basis or other part-time basis;
4) It moves the emphasis of society from the corporate to the individual.
A visitor to London in the late 18th century (J.W. Archenholz) observed of the Bank of England:
Since the Bank belongs to the entire nation, not only are all the rooms and halls open to everyone, but one large room has been furnished with a great many desks complete with large inkstands, quills and sandshakers. These are at the disposal of even the most common citizen who happens to come in from the streets without any business at the Bank.
The Bank was a private institution, loyal to the Crown and by no means in favour of equality but an essence of what non-hierarchy means comes across.
Reduction of corporate hierarchies was advocated by management gurus in the 1990s and put into practice with mixed results but as an ideal to be aimed for it was not too bad.
With parts of the world having been in a downturn since 2007-2008, the personal sector has struggled to finance itself. It cannot realistically bear more taxation or pay off the debts of governments. At best it can acquiesce in the necessary reduction of public deficits.
In the boom years of 2002-2006 it could not finance itself. It relied on debt.
When recovery comes about it will not be able to bear a burden of increased taxation. It will struggle to stay on an even keel and reduce its own debt.
The social democratic model of the second half of the 20th century of taxing the bourgeoisie to pay for redistribution is broken.
Increase personal taxation to the levels under Harold Wilson and scarcely a dent will be made in inequality's outline.
Serious money making will simply move to non-personal vehicles where the effective rate can be kept below 25%.
The corporate sector has fought for its low taxation rates. It will not give them up.
So the only way to redress the balance with the corporate sector back in favour of the personal sector is to abolish personal taxation.
When Archenholz was writing in 1786 about England much state revenue came from customs duties. Then the wheeze of taxing the individual through income tax came into being to finance the Napoleonic wars. Taxing the individual grew in popularity for two centuries.
With globalisation, and before, customs duties were reduced to low percentages in the name of free trade.
Such a step change is again possible in a new millennium.
Taxing value added at 50% could become the main source of revenue replacing personal taxation.
The cost of goods would rise and wages would fall (but in both cases less than might be expected at a cursory glance).
It is corporate taxation that currently is most relevant to the accumulation of large fortunes but should the creation of new inordinate fortunes become a problem under the new system there are ways to tackle it that do not breach the principle of no personal taxation. Withholding taxes are not technically levied on the individual. Such taxes might be levied above a minimum level.
The global situation is now approaching that where all the world's GDP could be generated by half the available workforce working full-time or all the available workforce working half-time.
A new ideology would seek to move all government employment to a three day a week basis and to offer it to all who wished to take it up, either on an unlimited basis or for a guaranteed number of years.
A long transition would be necessary and key decision makers, in some cases, might always have to work full-time.
With this guarantee of government employment some welfare payments would become unnecessary, lowering the percentage of GDP that had to be raised as tax revenues.
There would be no obligation on anyone to take up this government employment. Many would stay wholly within the private sector.
However, there would be great advantages to small scale entrepreneurship.
With some secure income from government employment, people could turn their hand to trying something different during the remainder of the week.
Partly protected from the ruthlessness of commercial pressures in the start up phase, they would have a greater chance of stumbling by trial and error into something commercially viable, innovative or enjoyable to which they might subsequently devote their full attention.
Since the beginning of the millennium the emphasis of society has moved substantially from the individual to the corporate.
The corporate includes most non-natural persons - government, corporations, trusts, trade unions, charities and so on.
This came about mainly through societal change but also through overtaxing the individual leaving him with inadequate disposable capital (evidenced by the declining savings ratios in the West).
The cult of individual equity investment, for example, is dying on its feet. Before the decade is out it may be effectively dead. This is partly due to the declining savings ratios but also because the individual cannot second guess computer driven trading, which is not always rational to the human mind, for long, with inferior information, technology and prices.
As for his personal capital tied up in managed pension funds, he has no effective control or supervisory rights.
In other areas a new ideology must also seek to protect the individual.
Access to the civil courts must not primarily be for the corporate.
When a patient visits a hospital it should flex to accommodate her needs not schedule her to fit its administrative and professional convenience.
Progress has at least two components. The first we know well - greater access for an ever greater number of people to the benefits of society.
The second has always been there but is less remarked - freedom of the individual from subjection to the corporate.
With the passage of time, less people die in the service of their religion or state. This is an example of progress for the individual relative to the corporate.
Progress for the individual is not about 'selfish individualism', in the Robert Maxwell mode, but for the individual to be an end in himself and not a victim of the means.
So most of the burden of change in this ideology, which is relatively internally consistent, falls mainly on the system not the individual. Government must offer the three day working, for instance.
As such, like many ideas, it has a tinge of the utopian but since it pursues desirable goals rather than absolutes it need not be so in practical, detailed application.
The parameters of a new ideology are, however, quite a distance from what already exists.