308. Resurrection of the political left
The political left has failed, as demonstrated, for example, by a dramatic drop of votes in the recent election in the Netherlands. This is no doubt due to its submission to neoclassical market ideology, with deregulation, privatization, and austerity measures, as a misguided policy to combat the economic crisis. The inequities that this generated, and a sense of being betrayed, has bred the present populist anger and rebellion.
Now that the left has nothing left to lose, there is not only a need but also room for a drastic re-orientation. Here is a proposal.
The central orientation that I propose is not to go along with populism, as some liberal and conservative parties have begun to do (e.g. in the Netherlands), pulled into the vortex of electoral pressure, giving in to nationalist sentiments and demands for majority decision making (as in referenda) that run the danger of violating the rule of law, with a tendency to bypass the judiciary if needed, and have already produced such effects (e.g. in Switserland).
The right way is not to abolish international trade, break down the EU and hide in nationalism, and slide into dictatorships of the majority. There is an alternative.
The challenge, I believe, is to take the wake-up call of populism seriously, listen to its justified grievances, and produce solutions. I propose three points for a new social vision.
First, save international trade, vital for prosperity, in two ways. One: compensate those who lost out in globalization, with programmes to bring new economic activity to areas of poverty, programmes for re-schooling, and, if necessary, re-distribution of income. Two: block he perversities of globalization, with multinational companies avoiding taxes, benefiting from subsidies to lure them or prevent them from leaving, and holding national governments hostage to the threat of leaving when not accommodated.
Second, save the EU by transforming it from a union only for the market to a union also for the people. The union is needed to effect the measures indicated above, and to bundle clout for an effective foreign policy, fiscal policy, policy for refugees, defence, environmental protection, and economic position vis a vis the US and China. It can focus more on such priorities and leave other things to the nations.
Third, save democracy by satisfying also the populist demand for bringing citizens closer to politics, in a drastic decentralization of government to local communities, in what is called the ‘commons’. The underlying idea is that democracy should no longer be seen as a periodic positioning, in electing a party with a pre-fabricated political programme, or voting yes or no in a referendum. It should rather be seen as an ongoing process, in which citizens participate in the identification of issues and the development of policies. Use may be made of citizen councils, appointed at random from a pool of he willing. The main role of a municipality would be to facilitate and support that process.
Such decentralization and citizen initiative is greatly facilitated by means of social media, and with local apps. Those media also have worrying negative effects, but here they can help.
A political condition for such decentralization of government is acceptance of some inequality between localities of services offered. One cannot have more freedom of policy making without room for diversity. However, a task of task of government that may remain, is to prevent extremes of such inequality.