11 February 2012

Big Ideas on Social Justice

Recent meetings of Big Ideas have been busy and an early arrival is advised so when the star turn was Newsnight's Paul Mason I got there around 6:30pm for an 8pm start. It was a good move.

There were other early birds and I was soon juggling conversations with beer and cheesy chips. By the time we got to the bewitching hour they were standing in the aisles ready to hear Paul Mason espouse on his chosen subject, What Would Be A Socially Just Solution To The Current Economic Crisis?

Paul told a history of Social Justice starting with the interesting claim that Social Justice was invented by the Catholic Church centuries ago to keep their followers away from Socialism and, in the modern day, has been refined by the likes of Rawls to remove the original concepts of power and hierarchy.

An early sound-bite was that neo-liberalism had converted the rural poor to the urban poor.

This stalled a decade or more ago and since then growth has been maintained by borrowing rather than increases in pay. This form of capitalism has run its course and the question now is what will replace it?

The current approach to debt bankrupts countries not banks and this impacts most on the young who need governments to provide the services and pensions etc. that earlier generations have enjoyed.

An example of what this means is cutting the minimum wage in Greece and threatening to do so here.

As times become harder the call for protectionism grows. There will be a trade war with China.

There is also a growth in the appeal of marginal parties, both left and right, as the mainstream central parties are seen to have no answers. Or, more worryingly, are too myopic to see the real problem that they face.

Opening the debate up to the floor we got our first mention of Marx, no Big Ideas meeting is complete until he gets mentioned.

I made the point that the young have been loosing out for some time but they have not noticed. For example, I was paid to go to university whereas today they have to pay $9,000 a year. Similarly Legal Aid has withered away.

The People: Planet: Profit: mantra is just a disguise and copies the factory acts of a century ago. The real aim is not to be nice to people but to make sure that there are still markets and employees in the future. It is the system that is being protected.

It is no longer clear what the working class believe in or are prepared to fight for, which makes it difficult to engage with them politically. We do not have a modern equivalent of a Land fit for Heroes.

The debate was wide-reaching and absorbing. Paul answered eloquently and at length pulling stories from history to make his points. I was seriously impressed.

Less impressive, but sadly not uncommon for Big Ideas, was some of the intellectual snobbery on display where people were criticised for not having read something or other, e.g. Rawls, or for having, done so, come to a different conclusion from the questioner.

But I can let intellectual snobbery pass me by and the overwhelming impressions of the evening were Paul Mason's authority and the conversations with friends. Another excellent evening at Big Ideas.

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