Tag Archives: social democracy

Shalom Lappin responds to Tristan Stubbs

Stubbs claims that I have mistakenly identified Third Way politics with the neo-liberalism of the Thatcher era. Instead, he suggests, it aims to achieve prosperity by promoting entrepreneurial energy and freeing business from regulation in order to generate investment. This view is, from what I can see, indistinguishable from a vintage neo-liberal approach…

Setting aside the tone of Tristan Stubbs’ remarks let me respond to what I take to be his main points.

1. Stubbs seriously misinterprets my account of the rise of radical Islamism. The fact that I identify this movement as, in part, conditioned by the failure of secular nationalism to deliver democracy or prosperity in post colonial third world countries certainly does not entail that I regard poverty as the major cause of Islamism, nor is my proposed description of this phenomenon “materialist” in any obvious sense. It is unclear to me on what basis Stubbs arrives at these thoroughly unmotivated inferences. I was simply suggesting that radical Islamism has been filling the political void left by the collapse of secular revolutionary nationalist ideologies thoughout the third world. This claim seems to be uncontroversial in that it amounts to little more than a straightforward description of the facts.

2. Stubbs asks how free trade unions can be established in third world countries that are ruled by repressive regimes which do not respect the rights of organized labour. This is a reasonable question. I suggested a partial answer in proposing that global free trade agreements be used as instruments for promoting democratic institutions, as well as social investment in the developing world. The obvious precedent here is the demand for democratization and respect for human rights that defines a necessary condition for entry into the European Union. It is also worth recalling that when union activists struggling against an undemocratic government enjoy widespread popular endorsement within their own country and receive strong support from abroad, they can, in some cases, effectively challenge their government. This is how Solidarity established itself both as a free labour union and the main engine of democratization within Communist Poland in the 1980s.

3. Stubbs claims that I have mistakenly identified Third Way politics with the neo-liberalism of the Thatcher era. Instead, he suggests, it aims to achieve prosperity by promoting entrepreneurial energy and freeing business from regulation in order to generate investment. This view is, from what I can see, indistinguishable from a vintage neo-liberal approach. It is unclear how it differs from the model proposed by conservative devotees of liberalized markets, low corporate taxation, and reduced business regulation. On this approach, a rise in living standards will invariably accompany the economic growth that is generated by reducing the burden of taxation and regulation on business activity. The problem with this theory is that it stands in marked contrast with the observed facts. The social gap between the richest and poorest segments of the population in Britain has grown considerably under recent Labour as well as the preceding Conservative governments. The wages of large sections of the labour force have grown very slowly or remained static in real terms. The quality of social services like the NHS and higher education, as well as the public transportation system are suffering from massive underinvestment. This pattern Is even more acute in the United States. In the Third World, rapid development through economic liberalization and investment has indeed led to the emergence of an expanding middle class and a reduction of poverty in countries like China and, to a lesser extent, India. However, large sections of the populations in these countries have been left out of the new economy and are sinking even deeper into poverty and dispossession. It should be clear that I am not calling for the destruction of the market, but for its deployment in a manner that maximizes social benefit across the population at large, as well as economic development.

4. Finally, Stubbs suggests my criticisms of Third Way politics and my proposals for a robust renewal of social democracy in internationalist terms will alienate people who might otherwise sign up to the Euston Manifesto’s project. This is, at best, a puzzling assertion. I am presenting a personal view in the context of an open discussion on how best to renew social democractic policies in a global economy. Other contributors to the forum have taken alternative positions, some of them closely aligned to New Labour. Stubbs’ comments here appear to exclude free discussion and to seek political orthodoxy in terms of Third Way policies. If this is the case, then these comments are entirely incompatible with the diversity of opinion and free debate that we wish to encourage on these issues. If such debate prevents some people from joining the Euston Manifesto Group, then one wonders in what sense they could possibly be democrats and political liberals.

Shalom Lappin is Professor of Computational Linguistics in the Department of Philosophy, King’s College, London

Shalom Lappin replies to David Grant and Celso de Barros

Thanks to David Grant and Celso Rocha for their interesting comments. Here are some quick replies to the points that they raise.

1. David Grant suggests that I take free trade and the globalized markets that it is generating to be inevitable processes. This is not the case. They are the result of economic policy decisions and international agreements. Like him, I see free trade as an engine of development that has the potential to produce the wealth necessary to improve living standards and eradicate poverty in the third world. However, precisely because global markets, like all markets, are social artefacts rather than forces of nature, their design reflects the interests of the forces that control them. If they are shaped entirely by private capital and the political agencies which represent it, then the wealth that they produce will be concentrated in the hands of a small business elite. In order to achieve an equitable distribution of this wealth that serves the interests of labour and consumers, as well as producers and investors global markets must be constrained and socialized by political interests that also represent the former. Private business alone cannot promote social or environmental rationality. Moving from the robber baron capitalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century to the welfare state of the post war years involved such a social rationalization of the market within western countries. This achievement is now seriously threatened by the emergence of global markets that bypass the constraints and redistributative mechanisms of the traditional welfare state. Refashioning them for the global market place is the primary challenge of a renewed social democracy.

2. Grant asks about how I envisage the role of the state in a globalized social democracy. On the model that I am sketching nation states do not disappear, but they enter into federative structures that define open, socialized markets. The EU provides a precedent for this approach. However, to work on a genuinely global scale such a federation will have to include underdeveloped countries and provide for significant investment in them. The emergence of an integrated socialized market of international dimensions will require an extended and complex historical process, as did the transformation of the European Common Market into the European Union.

3. Grant requests that I clarify the grounds and extent of my opposition to the obsessive campaign of privatization that is the focus of much neo-liberal economic policy. Clearly I am not proposing nationalization of industry and finance on the Soviet model. My concern is with the destruction of the robust public domain of services, infrastructure, and utilities that have formed the backbone of the modern welfare state. These have been steadily eroded by the juggernaut of neo-liberalism that has dominated many western economies for the past twenty-five years. These policies have produced disasters like the privatization of British rail and the water companies, the steady decline in British higher education through underfunding, the undermining of the NHS by internal markets and cuts in primary care staff, and the widespread dissipation of municipal services. Neo-liberalism has promoted a massive shift in public policy away from social investment in order to achieve low taxes on business and capital. This has generated a sharp rise in social inequality and a significant reduction in economic mobility for the poor and the middle classes. Wealth is increasingly monopolized by a shrinking economic elite that represents a diminishing proportion of the population. The emergence of global markets has greatly facilitated these patterns. Mobile investment capital and production can maximize profit by moving to low wage countries that impose minimal burdens of corporate taxation and regulation. Neo-liberal trade negotiators seek to use the World Trade Organization as an instrument for undermining public services and social investment in the markets that free trade agreements open up to external competition. They construe these services as a form of government protection that prejudices the interests of private companies looking to enter the fields of heath, education, transportation, and energy. A social democratic approach to free trade will formulate trade agreements and regulatory mechanisms to protect public services, equitable taxation, fair labour practises, and environmental concerns as part of a socialized open market.

4. Celso Rocha points out problems with global unions. In fact, I indicated that such unions would emerge only after vigorous local unions were first established in the low wage economies of the new emerging industries. These will engage in protracted industrial struggles which, if successful, will contribute to a rise in the standard of living in those countries that will contribute to the convergence of economic conditions in the developing countries and in western economies. This process will require a considerable amount of time. On the approach that I am proposing it will also be facilitated by the social investment and regulatory constraints of the international free trade agencies designed to promote a socialized global market.

It should be clear that I am sketching a general approach for redefining the social democratic project, rather than a set of detailed policies. This sketch is intended to provide the basis for ongoing discussion through which the viability of this approach can be tested and clarified. I am grateful to Grant and Rocha for raising important issues as part of this discussion.

Shalom Lappin is Professor of Computational Linguistics in the Department of Philosophy, King’s College, London

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Global trade unions and social trade agreements are the foundations of a 21st century global social democracy.
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Platform Fifteen

Shalom Lappin answers the same article on the questions of globalization and equality.
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