I’m slowly coming round to the conclusion that capitalism’s not the problem. True, its richest exponents have distorted representative democracy by buying into all kinds of bodies politic (more here on a related topic – revolving doors). And this has meant – in real and quantifiable terms – we can now see exactly how our representative democracy’s been hounded to early infirmity:
Present social movements, as “Occupy Wall Street” or the Spanish “Indignados”, claim that politicians work for an economic elite, the 1%, that drives the world economic policies. In this paper we show through econometric analysis that these movements are accurate: politicians in OECD countries maximize the happiness of the economic elite. In 2009 center-right parties maximized the happiness of the 100th-98th richest percentile and center-left parties the 100th-95th richest percentile. The situation has evolved from the seventies when politicians represented, approximately, the median voter.
But it seems to me this hasn’t happened so much because capitalists are an evil bunch – or at least, not a particularly evil bunch. Whilst my own experience of business in the language-services sector at the hands of the bigger fish should lead me to easily agree with the latter idea, I’m not inclined to do so any more: firstly, business, doing business, isn’t easy at all – whatever the size of your institution. Unavoidable overheads and running costs, the vulnerability which social media and networks bring, just getting paid on time – and in time – affects and stresses us all. (It also may lead many of us into sanctioning things a calmer moment or two wouldn’t allow.) Secondly, whilst it’s true that big business has imposed its structure on representative democracy, it might also be true that representative democracy has played a part in doing exactly the same in the opposite direction.
The state, after all, is never a neutral concept.
In fact, I’d prefer to stop calling it “representative democracy”: prefer, much more, to call it “distanced democracy”.
In the same way as we often accuse the hierarchical agencies which rule large corporate bodies (not only big capitalist companies; also, smaller – supposedly charitable – institutions) of exhibiting highly removed behaviours from the daily hustle and bustle of down-at-the-bottom-of-the-pile workforces, so democracies which have operated through the variably good faith of professional politicians and other enablers of political activity have tended to become similarly ensconced in bubbles of unburstable self-belief.
Taking the whole #SamaritansRadar process as an example here: we clearly have an example of people at the top who have no clear idea of what they’re unleashing. And this is probably because they are at the top: there’s no way anyone – even someone with immense dollops of the good faith I’ve already mentioned we all need more of – can possibly determine accurately what someone else, who spends their entire day-to-day existence working with the consequences of these “distanced” decision-making processes, already knows all too easily; already knows all too worryingly.
No. I don’t think capitalism is the issue after all. What’s in crisis ain’t a historically slippery economic “system”, which in truth is anything but a system as ideologues might understand it. What’s in crisis is the relationship between its customers and itself: so much so that, foolishly, its biggest proponents, through secretive trade treaties various, are aiming to feather-bed their economic fears and desires in order not to have worry about overheads, late payment dates and evermore bolshie and nationalistic nation-states – looking, equally, as the latter are, to tie down future exploitation of land, sea, natural resource and multifarious property rights in almost everything, at the expense of the permanent and frantic control freakery these frontier-less capitalists manifest.
But then who can blame them? (The capitalists, I mean.) Wouldn’t you do the same, once (if) you managed to reach a certain critical mass? Wouldn’t the roller-coaster of “grow or be destroyed” eventually force you down the route they all inevitably end up following?
This is why I’d suggest the solution isn’t to be found via reining in the capitalists – nor complaining, observing, suggesting or sustaining the idea that capitalism is broken.
The solution, for capitalism and democracy both, lies in the lessons of #SamaritansRadar: yes, people like myself, who don’t consider ourselves disabled, who don’t identify one-to-one with everything those with significant support needs rightly fight for … well, we can always choose to support a campaign, a movement, a direction on behalf of one party or another. And that, to an extent, is good – of course it is.
But a real democracy, a democracy which is not “distanced”, a democracy which gets closer to the accuracy of persistent, timely complaint, is the kind of democracy where those who are directly and indiscriminately affected by oppressive behaviours have their own ability, tools and environments to allow them to continually shout the loudest, and be continually heard. And just as this kind of what we might call “first-person democracy” will always guarantee the noise is maintained until it becomes unnecessary, so – in the same way – what the “distanced capitalism” I alluded to before needs in order that it may become irrelevant and out-of-date is a similarly close and faithful relationship between those who can exercise it as a tool of business and those – its customers, in fact – who have a daily, continuous and perpetual right to judge it: to judge it, to complain about it and to get their voices properly heard.
To judge persistently in first person with reliable data, evidence and conjecture … that is all our currently “distanced democracy” needs to become relevant once more to our needs; and that is all our “distanced capitalism” needs to become irrelevant to our preoccupations.