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The good life in a Good Society

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To those who disagreed with my previous posting (Falling leaves of Social Democracy), I encourage your criticism.  It was my point that there is far too little discussion about the political knot that labour and social democratic politics is stuck in.

I have found at least one source of analysis and debate that goes beyond day to day tactics to loosen the knot and attempts to cut the rope instead.

European social democrats have launched a dialogue that I find intriguing and hopeful. Moreover, some claim that their discourse  is now giving shape to the policy frames of several European parties, including the British Labour Party under its new leader, Ed Miliband.

The lead article in this dialogue hosted by the web site Social Europe Journal, is written by Guardian columnist and chair of the British “Compass Group”, Neal Lawson.  He offered this description of the “problem with progressives” that articulated exactly what I have felt for a long time:

“…social democracy does not work within a neo-liberal framework. Although the pace might be slower, even when our parties are in office, the poor still get poorer and the planet still burns. That is because even when we are in office, we are not in power. The dominant ideology is still neo-liberalism and the dominant forces in business and the media are on the right. Critically for us, our parties and movement just shrink because we are no longer delivering either enough practical help or any future hope. The countervailing forces we need -- through the party, the unions and civil society -- just become diminished. The knot tightens. We end up promising less and doing less.”

The Social Europe group say they have untied the knot and broken free of the neo liberal frame with an alternative they call “the Good Society.

At first glance it is tempting to write it off as banal or meaningless.  But don’t be misled by the simplicity of its starting point of asking what makes a good life.  It soon becomes a far reaching exercise that calls for a political economy and politics that defines and promotes an alternative to global capitalism.  As Lawson put it: “If we start from what we value, then issues of time, care, more control over our lives, and sustainability begin to trump money, labour market flexibility and consumption.”

My take on the potential value of this is a framework which on one hand would bring labour politics much closer to green politics, and vice versa. On another hand, it also emphasizes quality of life and social needs instead of employment based on various versions of financial and labour market deregulation.

I am not yet convinced that this group has untied our knot. But I am encouraged enough to suggest that labour leaders, political leaders and social movements put their electoral plans on hold and begin a discussion here on what it means to have a good life, and what economic and political policies offer the possibility of a Good Society.

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