Three Political Narratives

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[Elections everywhere. This is an attempt to broadly summarise three main political narratives in key policy areas in most democracies, but with a special emphasis on their Australian versions. The contrasting single policy points in each narrative are mainly pitched at a median level, neither too general nor too specific. There will be legitimate quibbles about details and omissions (especially around the third narrative), but I have tried to present the main points as I see them. The third narrative is, taken as a whole and despite some overlaps with the first two narratives, outside the hegemonic mainstream narrative of the first two, based as they are around parties and elections. This is because, although many of the points of the third narrative are just reforms or ‘structural reforms’ that can be implemented within a capitalist system up to a certain point, it is as a whole outside the whole mainstream mindset, i.e it is anti-systemic, post-capitalist, transformative. The latter narrative of course gets almost no mention in the corporate media during elections or any other time. Self-management (or autonomy, participatory democracy) is of course based on an attitude that is the opposite of the political consumerism linked to all parties and elections and to online ‘clicktivism’. I’m sure the lists can be extended, quibbled with and modified, but I was just trying to get the gist in concrete policy areas (not in basic values, principles or further-going possible institutional re-structurings). The Levi ad is a US one from the 1950s, and the pedantic, curmudgeonly grammarian in me notes the wrong use of the apostrophe for a plural as already present.)

Three Political Narratives

1. The Neoliberal Business-as-Usual Narrative (Australian Laborals)

Jobs, growth and prosperity
Carbon Trading, minimal emissions reductions
New and continuing fossil fuel support
Some support for renewables
Agribusiness support (‘get big or get out’)
More roads and infrastructure
‘Innovation nation’, STEM, service jobs, start-ups, ‘flexibility’
Public service reductions
Welfare tightening for the poor
Middle class and business welfare maintenance
More free trade and foreign investment
Maintenance/increase of military spending
Maintenance of balance between US alliance and China trade
Less foreign aid
Border protection
Business-as-usual party government (lobbies, backrooms, musical chairs)

2. The Neo-Keynesian Green New Deal Narrative (Green progressives)

Green jobs, green growth and prosperity
Greater emissions reductions, carbon trading
No new fossil fuels, cutting of fossil fuel subsidies
Massive support for renewables
Support for move to more sustainable agribusiness
More public transport and infrastructure
Green ‘Innovation Nation’, Green New Deal
No public service reductions
No welfare tightening for the poor, some increases
Reductions in middle class/business welfare (‘reducing inequality’)
Less or renegotiated free trade
Decrease in military spending
Less US-obedient foreign policy
More foreign aid
Onshore processing of asylum seekers, more intake
‘Reclaiming democracy from corporate influence’, ‘more accountability’

3. The Eco-Socialist Alternative Narrative (anti-capitalists, radicals)

Green jobs, reduction in working hours, guaranteed minimum income, non-growth/de-growth/steady-state economy

Radical emissions reductions (350 ppm), state regulation of emissions caps, energy rationing

‘Fair earth share’, ‘living more simply’, ‘ecological/climate justice’

Rapid phasing out of all fossil fuels by all means necessary

Massive support for renewables, especially community-owned and -managed

Support for re-localisation of food production and many other parts of the economy

More public transport and locally owned infrastructure

‘Transition to a Sustainable Society’, ‘Eco-Socialism’, ‘Self-Management’, ‘Re-localisation’

Natural reductions in centralised public service bureaucracies via re-localisation

Elimination of most social welfare via a guaranteed minimum income

Elimination of all middle class and business welfare and subsidies

Fair trade instead of ‘free’ trade, greater self-sufficiency at all levels

Radical decrease in military spending, for example via restructuring into smaller purely defensive units

Independent foreign policy (leaving of the US alliance) based on international law

More foreign aid, especially as direct, community-to-community mutual aid

Multilateral solutions to migrant flows, especially via direct sustainable development aid

Introduction of participatory democracy in government, economy, education…at all levels

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on May 19, 2016.

9 Responses to “Three Political Narratives”

  1. I am only going to comment on two things. I have never considered a basic income or a steady state economy to be radical solutions or part of a radical alternative. So I find that interesting.

    As to a basic income, I have never seen a figure that emphatically ensures a dignified life nor what one indeed would be or how that would be democratically determined, as that seems to be the general intention. Nor have I ever considered it to be necessary if indeed a truly democratic participatory economy was implemented. It usually seems to me just a better alternative to a welfare economy that would allow the current system to continue in all its absurdity. In fact, that is what the idea of a basic income illustrates and highlights…how absurd the current system truly is. As does the welfare state. It is merely to provide a comfy bed on which most of us can lie while we get fucked over in an increasingly automated economy that is creating and will create more unemployment and underemployment.

    “Our conclusion can only be that the implementation of unconditional guaranteed incomes is not the revolutionary principle which the authors of “the Triple Revolution” evidently believe it to be. If applied under our present system, it would be, like religion, an opiate of the people tending to strengthen the status quo [and] far from inaugurating an era of regeneration, it would merely tend to dull the sense of anger and outrage which is the natural human reaction to a society as corrupt and shameful as ours.” (Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman of Monthly Review around the end of 1964)

    As to the steady state, I have never really considered it to be a radical solution and from what I have read, aside from some of the bloody complex economic shit one has to deal with from those advocating it, it’s really just pressing down on the breaks while one’s foot is on the accelerator. It flies in the face of market imperatives.

    I’m sure I’m just quibbling and my thoughts about both are uninformed, perhaps silly and easily dealt with so perhaps I should just let it go.

    There are other thoughts and quibbles but I guess this isn’t the time or place to do it.

    • G’day James, good to hear from you again, albeit with the slightly biting me-against-you edge I’m getting used to hearing.

      Re guaranteed minimum income. Nobody is suggesting that THIS measure would mean the abolition of capitalism. Not the point (as if anyone were implying there could be one single Archimedean point from which the whole system can be changed…). The point is its simple benefits on many levels, both here and now and from a wider utopian perspective. It would mean the end of both obligatory wage labour to survive (the original 19th century revolutionary socialist goal one might remember) and of the stigma of being a dole/welfare recipient. How is that not potentially anarcho-communist in its implications? What people then do with their free time is of course up to them: go and work for more money, watch TV all day, play music, become radical activists for participatory democracy, preach Parecon, write blogs…If it’s one thing the practice of partcipatory democracy needs it’s loads of free time. A case of capitalism containing the potential seeds of its own dissolution in best Marxian dialectic (as it does in other areas)…This (like ‘We don’t Want Your Jobs!’) is a much more potentially motivating/liberating idea to me than both old Neo-Keynesian notions of ‘full employment’ or the generalisation of wage labour that seems to go with the economistic notion of ‘remuneration for effort and sacrifice’. The Sweezy-Huberman quote is what I would expect from these good Old Left, proto-Stalinist, bods: the proles have gotta suffer to the max within capitalism otherwise they won’t do what we’d like ’em to, get us apparatchiks into power (‘socialism’).

      Re Steady-state. More precisely: de-growth/steady state. This is the eco-economic, limits-to-growth issue you (or Albert) seem to little register or care about, James. Capitalism needs self-accumulation/growth/market expansion or it ain’t capitalism. Thus the real world, material root of the capitalist crisis (and our opportunity): ‘The planet says no’, growth is finished, you’ve long overshot carrying capacity, and the rich (including us) are consuming way beyond ecological sustainability, it’s Peak Everything (oil/fossil fuels, population, water, soils, food/fertilizer production etc.). Thus: resource consumption and emissions production have to come down for the rich (rise a little for the poor: ‘ecological justice’), we have to globally de-grow, find a socially and globally equitable stationary/steady state without growth. Without this basic and radical eco-material change, all the rest is just hot air.

      • Nothing biting you against me stuff. Merely looking at the ideas you present. It’s more some of the ideas you present against others. Tone of voice and inflection doesn’t always come across in print. You suggested in you opening there may be quibbles. I have no idea whether mine are legitimate or not.

        Just thought both a basic income or a steady state economy are more in line with a Keynsesian type new deal or part of a transitional process but am probably wrong. Both are very economistic in nature and both come with extreme amounts of literature surrounding them, both positive and negative. And both can attract significant philosophical quibbling as to notions of equality which can drive the ordinary person nuts.

        I agree a basic income may bring all sorts of possibilities but I think Sweeny and what’s-his-dick have a point. I have no idea about either of the two’s Stalinist background mor do I think that relevant to the quote’s main thrust. There’s nothing in the quote, to me, that suggests keeping the “proles” down. Shit, Inwas supportive of the idea long ago when I first heard anout it and certainly not totally against it (I’m actually not against pretty much anything that pushes in the anti cap direction) but some around me have doubts, and I have read some, and I see their points.

        Your assessment of my position re limits to growth is pretty much wrong, you may be delighted to hear. Don’t know where you got that idea from. I just don’t go on soecifically about it like many others. My anti marjet anti cap position pretty much covers it. Can’t speak for Albert. (But I would say that in any future good society there will be production and consumption democractically decided and that effort and sacrifice is one possible way and not a bad way, or idea, of deciding how the pie could be accessed and I don’t agree with you that it is less motivating or liberating. I don’t find a steady state nor a badic income as exciting and motivating ideas. Each to their own. Also do not see something like Parecon, as being economistic in that grey negative sense you seem to always paint it, nor unfriendly to de growth or no growth or whatever. Just an aside, as there is a tendency for yourself to kind of lump me in with some sort of Albertarian ideological mindset or something, I think just because I think Parecon has merit. I get that feeling.)

        A basic income and a steady state do not necessarily solve equality problems (which you have acknowledged in regard to a basic income) nor are they likely to be democratically determined policies or economies. I would suggest they will be determined, if they ever happen, by a subset of chosen ones with economistic mindsets. Technocrats. But I hope the people power behind them becoming a real thing will counter that possibility. Like I said, I feel they belong more in number two, or as transitional ideas rather than radical revolutionary ones. Or perhaps in 2.5, somewhere in between.

        Caveat: I could be fucking wrong.

      • On ya cobber, thanks. Seems we have a lot of overlap or consensus on a few issues, maybe just some different emphases. Yer quite right of course about the basic guaranteed income (BGI) policy could theoretically be going into the Green New Deal vision. You’ll have noticed the order of my proposed policy lists in the three narratives are meant to echo/distinguish each other (with some overlaps of course). My audience for this attempt BTW is not the left but middle class Green progressives that I am surrounded by here and online.

        So the reason I didn’t put it under the Green New Deal narrative is coz (a) the Oz Greens and other progs are not running with it so far, at the moment preferring the ‘green jobs’/full employment narrative, and (b) as said, I would argue it obviously and potentially transcends wage labour and that key aspect of the logic of capitalism so relevant to absolutely everyone who has to work for someone to pay the bills, i.e. it is an important potential seed for, transition to, a post-capitalist system. I’m not much interested in the economic fine detail (as you know), but in the all-important subjective and creative space it could open up for all. (As for example would free public transport, which the Greens/progs are also not demanding. Like free software, open source, free goods, gift economy, i.e. communism in the Marxian-Kropotkinian sense of the word not the totalitarian…).

        The only serious caveat I would have about a BGI is whether it would doable within a degrowth economy or not, even after radical redistributions of wealth and state expenditure (also implied in a few of my points in narrative three). Maybe it won’t be possible in a future of increasing resource scarcity and radical ecological sustainability as the necessary basis of society. (Good to hear I’ve got ya wrong on the latter, cobber).

        Camerados are always talking about ‘strategy’, ‘program’, about how to get from here to there. Well, one obvious way I’d argue would be to ask, analyse, where we think these ‘seeds of the new’ already are within the old, what can be supported and extended by various means (which may include campaigns of various kinds)… A BGI would be one of them. So would, for example, any attempts people are making in the rich countries to reduce their ecological footprints (e.g. the tiny houses you disparaged) and become even a little more self-reliant (e.g. private or community gardening). So would any practice and confidence people are getting at leaderless direct democracy and participatory decision-making (e.g. from Occupy/Nuit Debout mass assemblies to small activist groups, communes, coops, alternative institutions of all kinds). Etc.

        A BGI can very well be a democratically determined policy, why not? There already is a petition movement for such a decision (which I have signed) going on in Europe. Given a certain number of signatures, the Euro Commission or Parliament has to debate it and decide, I believe…

        Yep, steady-state/stationary state has nothing to do with greater equality, of course not, but is just measuring something else on a macro level of economic and resource input-output, (as I understand it) and seeking to have no growth there, or else actual de-growth in most areas, the latter theories (e.g. Trainer) being more radical and coupled with questions of achieving greater equality of resource access and consumption. Again, not interested in economic details, just the obvious, general, over-arching ecological necessity of steady-state/degrowth on an economic macro level and the radical social, cultural and psychological consequences of that…

      • Just one more thing actually. If a steady state is merely to be a general all purpose name for an economy that achieves what Daly suggests, then fine. But as a general term, it says nothing much about what the actual institutional structure is. For instance, to me, Parecon could quite easily be that steady state economy in the same way that, something that may surprise someone like Ethan Miller, Parecon is a solidarity economy. Further, a steady state economy can get economistically complex regarding markets and how the economy is set up (technocrats), which seem to be, probably due to the Soviet experiment in planning, the preferred allocation system.

      • Apart from my predelictions, my anti market anti capitalism, my idealism etc., I must say that it seems more than likely something like a GBI will be implemented as it allows for the type of current liberal socialist lite thinking to continue. A pragmatic approach to change rather than the extreme usual loony left ideas. It is the type of thing that gets thrown around by those who see the exponential growth of computer power and automation as the other big economic problem to deal with as it creates ever higher unemployment and under employment.

        Some sort of green new deal is also the most likely scenario to take us forward as well.

        A steady state economy of some sort, coupled with ideas of degrowth, and possibly a GBI, provides a way out for those doubtful of ever implementing direct democracy or those who think it completely bogus and impossible. It allows for current hierarchies and heteronomy to continue whilst delivering the “best possible outcomes” for most of us (regardless of it actually being the case). I reckon it will be more than likely those kinds of ideas, coupled with geoengineering disasters waiting to happen, that will take us into the future.

        Something like that.

      • “Some sort of green new deal is also the most likely scenario to take us forward as well.” Agreed, the most likely (watch out, we might be in danger of consensus!). And that’s precisely why I thought the radical third narrative focussing on key concrete aspects of the mainstream policy debates was worth pointing out to the New Dealers. (BTW I have rewritten the intro, trying to clarify a few odd things about the lists. Dunno if that helps or not.)

        I notice that you tend to focus on WHO you think might be in favour of GBI or degrowth/steady state rather than the contents and merits/demerits/potentials of the actual policies themselves, no matter who might be advocating them. I’m more in favour of discussing actual contents and potentials. I’ve tried to point out both the revolutionary potential of a BGI and the sheer, simple, ecological necessity of macro-economic degrowth/no growth/steady state, so I won’t try again. Just one more thing re GBI and heteronomy/autonomy: of course a GBI ain’t autonomy (never said it was), but material security, increased free time and a liberation from wage labour are< I would argue, not only good in themselves in terms of improving quality of life NOW but also very necessary CONDITIONS for the potential development of autonomy, participation, self-management.

        "If applied under our present system, it [a GBI] would be, like religion, an opiate of the people tending to strengthen the status quo [and] far from inaugurating an era of regeneration, it would merely tend to dull the sense of anger and outrage which is the natural human reaction to a society as corrupt and shameful as ours.” (Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman of Monthly Review around the end of 1964).

        To me this sounds a bit like a pretty irksome and dogmatic refusal to favour any improvements in people's lives NOW, within capitalism, because it might 'dull' their 'sense of anger and outrage'. For a start, WHY should it? Why should anger only be linked to some sort of impoverishment or immiseration? Who is to say that more free time, more self-activity and the delights of not having to work for the Man if you're happy with a bit less consumption via a GBI might not lead to MORE discussions with others, more questioning, more insights, more activism, more anger, more lust for more self-activity and self-management?

        Secondly, the 'revolution' is theory for intellectuals, pretty unlikely any time soon I think we'd agree (cf above New Green Deal), and meanwhile people's quality of life is improved NOW by a GBI, anything wrong with that? Beware the dour Calvinists/Stalinists of Revolution: by the Machiavellian logic of anger=revolution=worsening of life or immiseration (classic orthodox Marxism that already once helped fascism into the saddle in Germany BTW), these guys would have to logically be in favour not of improvements of working class life but of worse working and living conditions, maybe a bit of fascism might help, or total climate chaos…

        See ya, camerado.

      • I agree with what you say. But I too, as well, also look at the content and what these things may bring to the table, but I still think Sweeny and the other guy have a point. You may be right that a GBI could create more discussion but….

        It kind of goes to the point you pointed out I am pointing to, of the “who” is advocating it. In some ways, yes, I do have that concern sometimes. None of that inhibits me from reading up about these things and even advocating them to others, however, there does seem to be a tendency, and I found it at The Next System Project as well, of a rather conservative type approach to these things. You know, the old “pragmatic” approach to change that contrasts with the extreme loony left old cliched revolutionary socialism? When I say that, I mean, these things are often being advocated by many liberal and not so liberal types, as ways of maintaining the system and all its bullshit.

        A good example was me digging around the NSP resource section, The Capital Institute and a few names, that lead to a few articles, that lead to a rather strange debate or critique of Ted Trainer’s critique of the transition network and its tendency to eschew a stronger revolutionary language and aporoach. He got “attacked” by a few types of a less radical persuasion who were connected to the Next System Project who felt such an approach and language wasn’t helpful. I like to call this the well mannered approach or pleated pants approach.

        I realise that, well, in some ways, it doesn’t matter because if something like a GBI is adopted, well, great. But I think there still needs to be a strong more radical narrative attached, like Ted was saying. I do feel at the moment that the “old left”, the good “old left”, the goid or great aspecs pf the “old left”, is starting to drift behind and could disappear over the horizon in favour of new modern approaches, strategies, ideas, the old popular practical pragmatic “balanced”, “sit-on-the-fence”, “I-listen-to-all-sides” aporoaches that give up on real equality, solidarity and autonomy. Know what I mean?

      • Understand better where you’re coming from now, and share many of your concerns or frustrations. Dropped out of the local Transition scene because of Traineresque feelings and frustrations… Basically it’s the old old reform v revolution, ‘realists’ v ‘fundamentalists’ (old German Greens split from the eighties onwards) dichotomy, polarisation, ain’t it? Have found myself in both camps and neither, a pox, often enough, on both your houses when is stuck in the mud of the present system and the other is stuck in the ideas in his/her head. Transcend ’em both maybe. Inner work, different plane, awareness of centre, then judge/act on a case by case basis. The Zen-Boddhisattva side of me says any real little lessening of suffering, any kindness, any coin in the beggar’s hat, any small ecological rescue or improvement for our plant and animal cousins is worth a thousand words and hot air debates. The anarchist-poetic side of me says I’m only really, emotionally, spiritually, interested in deep radical change on all levels, in the future drawing us onward via our wishes and longings, in the concrete utopia of the social/cultural generalising of autonomy. The former does not automatically lead to the latter. The latter keeps rearing its utopian head in social movements, perhaps way ahead of its time. Give the latter another century or two perhaps before it might become global average consciousness. (It’s not even average consciousness within IOPS). Guess the next step in human evolution would be to get global average consciousness just up to bourgeois-rational-worldcentric (away from present magic-tribal-national), a la the more advanced sections of the Green New Deal mob.

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