Guest post by Niall Douglas: Progressive pluralist economics or left-wing economics?

13/10/2009

During the next few days we will be putting up a number of guest posts arising from the TASC Autumn Conference - Towards a Progressive Economics - held over the weekend. The first critique is by Niall Douglas.

Niall Douglas: I attended the TASC Autumn Conference - Towards a Progressive Economics - and managed to make it through from start to finish, despite having woken at 3.30am in order to travel to Dublin. I found it most illuminating and I offer my thanks to its organisers and speakers for a most welcome discourse.

Much was spoken of the failings of Neo-Classical Economics and Neo-Liberal Economics – the two not being the same, I might add, as the former is the (supposedly) apolitical collection of theories and models and the latter is the avowedly political application of those theories. Suggestions for improvement seemed to me to centre around the need for the reintroduction of pluralism within economic discussion, and the transfer of power from “the markets” to political control which could be more rationally and humanely directed than the necessarily chaotic, and often psychopathically selfish, free market. This, it seemed to be implied, is the only form of “progressive” that there is.

This is simply untrue: there are progressives on the right just as much as there are on the left – indeed, throughout human history one finds that which side is the more progressive alternates across the decades. From inspecting the last century, I would personally say that both left and right-wing politics have enacted just as much progressive legislation across the world as the other.Human rights and welfare have without doubt been improved dramatically since the 19th century, and both sides can take credit.

Most people know of the great suffering presently endured by far too many in our planet, and anyone humane feels angered and motivated to create change by their plight. What makes a person politically progressive is a profound and deep-seated belief that it IS possible to improve the state of our world and that the Thomas Malthuses of our world are wrong (I should hasten to mention that Rev. Malthus did not believe that humankind was doomed, and ascribing such negativity to the man does him an historical injustice).

Every progressive is united by a burning desire to enact social and environmental justice, to bring equality of both opportunity and outcome to all, to provide a better world for our succeeding generations and to instil freedom and democracy at every level of our world.

If TASC is a think-tank dedicated to progress, then in my opinion it needs to bring the progressive right into its debate as well – most especially its economic debate. Much of last weekend’s conference had (in my opinion) those speaking to the already converted, which is surely nothing like as progressive as advocating progressive ways ahead to a politically mixed audience.

For example, the progressive religious right in the USA are just as appalled with the events of recent years as anyone on the left: they have been instrumental in withdrawing the support of the religious right away from the Republican Party which so failed them. Without their efforts – and their progressive ideas – Obama would never have become elected, nor would he be expending so much political capital on bringing the Republican Party on board with his legislation in health, climate change and so many others still to come.

One cannot but conclude that the progressive right are instrumental to the near-term future of this world.

A good start would be to add a few voices of the progressive right to this blog – I don’t doubt that the comments will wonder who I would suggest, so I will freely admit that I have no idea as I am profoundly ignorant of the current political scene: I do look forward to seeing who commentators might suggest. I am sure that, by providing a counterfoil to left-wing arguments, the quality of the overall debate would become greatly improved and intellectually more robust: so much so that government, business and the markets would find it hard to ignore the arguments for progressive change.

In the end, pluralism is a double-edged sword: if you truly believe in it, you have to let it cut you from time to time, and in so doing hopefully become better and stronger than before.

Niall Douglas holds degrees in Business Information Systems, Economics and Management and Software Engineering. He is a member of the international Toxic Textbooks movement

Posted in: Economics

Tagged with: towards a progressive economics

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