In the style of Adam Curtis: “This is a series of posts about how our politicians became so successful at promoting a US-style form of individualism that we all – even those who claim to hate her – came to have a little Margaret Thatcher hiding inside of us, guiding our every move.”
That goes for the anarchists too in my experience. In fact I spoke to a couple who were quite confused when Cameron unveiled The Big Society. It sounded to them like a step towards anarchism. Many on both left and right these days tend to agree that the government shouldn’t do too much for us. Ultimately, say these people, it would be great if we did without the government altogether.
Now, if what you’re saying to me is that our government is run by greedy, selfish scum and we shouldn’t trust them to organise anything bigger than a tea-and-scones picnic for us then I’m bound to agree with you. It doesn’t strike me as an idea that could be argued with – except by people who directly benefit from the current state of affairs of course, which isn’t as many as it should be.
And that’s the big problem that the left at least should understand (the right are precisely the right because they refuse to be concerned about it): resources are distributed very unequally in our society. And no, they don’t go to people based on merit, and if they did, whose idea of merit would it be? And what of those born without merit? Are they condemned to a life of poverty? The question of the mechanics of inequality is not as obvious as people think, and involves moving away from the comedic idea that people people earn what they deserve.
Where people are right is that we can always get more involved in creating our own lives. We live a life that is consumerist in a deeper way than us being able to buy lots of silly shit in the shops. Everything is done for us, often by professionals. Education is done for us. The local gym is run by other people. Charity is done by professionals. Pubs are run for us. Food is made elsewhere. Festivals are created for us. It lulls us into a strange state of active passivity such that even when we decide we want to break away from mainstream society, we assume, as we run around doing lots of stuff, that someone else will sort out the cool shit we want to be involved in.
We should organise more stuff ourselves. We should make our lives our own. It’s all true. But over it all hangs one important cloud: a form of economic organising – companies and corporations in a government-created market environment – that concentrates wealth in people and places where we can’t get at it. Until we find another way of organising our economy, there is only one body with the power and ability to redistribute that wealth in a more reasonable way: the body that creates the legal structure of companies in the first place.
We can argue all day about how the government should be organised and who gets the power of decision-making, and how to distribute resources without concentrating too much power in their hands, but the idea of reducing the government while corporations run free is the Thatcherite utopia. People in power deliberately obscure the question of resources in the name of an individualism they expect us all agree with. We shouldn’t let them. We shouldn’t let our inner Thatcher whisper ‘Yes’ as we hear them talk about taking responsibility for our lives. They mean something different by it than we do.
So yeah, it turns out that, even if some of those Tories believe their own rhetoric, The Big Society is a cover for a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary people to those who already have it. It isn’t a Big Society at all, it’s a Big Shit On Our Heads. Work for free because we (the rich) don’t want to pay for it. If you don’t have the services you want, you’re to blame. A lot of people have noticed this by now and I’m not saying anything new. But if you want to know the kind of thing I mean by ‘government-created market environment’, have you noticed that according to the politicians (as well as their backers, of course) what rich people need to incentivise them is higher salaries, while what poor people need to incentivise them is…lower salaries? They build their tax and welfare policies accordingly.
We don’t need the government to organise everything, but until our economic structures change, we do need our central governing body – whatever form it takes – to distribute wealth a little more evenly, and to take steps to lower the huge wealth gap that they’ve been busy creating. That is what this current government will never do, and so their vision of ‘small government’ is not in favour of freedom, as they claim, but in favour of corporate power, i.e. in favour of themselves and their friends. As for your inner Thatcher, I recommend a sharp blow of a mace to the skull. Do it quick, before she starts whispering to you again.