Britons “have never had it so good”, declared Harold Macmillan in 1957. Nearly 60 years later the economy is three times as productive, so we should all be three times richer still, and yet people struggle harder and harder to make ends meet.
We are living in a transactional economy, in which “productivity” means pushing money round and round the system in pursuit of a marginal profit rather than making and doing the things that have authentic, human value. Governments encourage this because transactional activity is the fastest route to GDP growth.
In Human Politics : Human Value, Martin Whitlock explains how we got stuck in this political and economic dead-end by targeting the wrong outcomes.
The focus on GDP growth, rising house prices, corporate profits and the volume rather than the usefulness of trade has pushed human wants and needs to the margins. He describes the key steps towards a new, collaborative, economic model in which wealth is derived from useful work and flourishing human relationships.
inspired by the themes of 'Human Politics : Human Value'
Human Politics : Human Value was published on 23 September 2014. Price: £12.99 (paperback).
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J M Keynes, writing in 1930, reckoned that by now the economy would be so productive that we would all be living comfortably on 15 hours work a week. He was right about the productivity, so what's happened to all the leisure time? Human Politics : Human Value explores how it is that a society that has grown so productive "on paper", with GDP increasing at the fastest rate ever in the decade running up to the banking crisis, should have caused average incomes to stagnate or even decline, and require everybody who can find work to do more and more paid hours to make ends meet.
The key theme of the book, and a big part of the answer to that question, is how transactional activity has taken over the economy. More and more of the paid work people do merely pushes wealth round and round the system, inflating prices, squeezing producers, making a profit for the lucky few while persuading everybody else to take on more and more debt that they can ill-afford.
If you recognise this picture, Human Politics : Human Value is for you. It's not a heavy read, but it will open your eyes to things going on all around us that we've come to regard as normal, even though they make life for most people much more difficult than it needs to be. It asks, for example, why more expensive housing is considered to be a "good thing", even though it means that people are able to spend less and less of their wealth on the things they want and need; why we measure the success of the economy in relation to paid activity, when much of the work that we value most in our lives we do for nothing; why we have surrendered control of our economic activity into the hands of companies who are answerable for their financial profits rather than their social usefulness; and why governments are so keen to encourage unnecessary trade, which separates producers from consumers and means more and more productive value is stripped out by middlemen...
For all this, together with the answers to some intriguing questions (How rich really was Mr Darcy?), a brief history of architecture from the Sumerians to the Shard and some surprising insights into what people really want the economy to do for them, head for your favourite high street or on-line bookshop, or click the “Buy Now” button for immediate delivery.
Listen to Martin Whitlock talk about Human Politics : Human Value
Politicians in government may be frustrated, but to understand the reason they need listen only to their own voices. They have surrendered economic controls to the overwhelming vested interests of “the market”, which they constantly praise; they have promised people what they cannot have, offering low taxes in the same breath as high quality services that low taxes cannot pay for; they have told people that “prison works”, then have neither made prisons more effective nor promoted the alternative forms of sentencing that are known to work better; they have pursued a vociferous and punitive “war on drugs” that they know to be harmful; they have condemned benefit fraud when they know that there is hardly any; they have whipped up anti-immigrant sentiment when they know that low wage immigrant labour drives large parts of the economy; they have pledged to solve the housing crisis while implementing policies to keep house prices rising... the list is almost endless, showing not that politicians are inveterate liars but that weak, centralised democracy is a habitat in which the truth cannot thrive.
(extract from Chapter 13)
Education is focused on narrow attainment criteria in the same way that economic policy is focused on GDP, and for much the same reasons. It is easy to measure and compare progress against a single metric, and it is easier and faster to improve performance against a narrow measure of achievement. Just as transactional activity in the economy ramps up GDP much faster that real, productive work, clever management of a transactional assessment system can show rapid progress in educational attainment, irrespective of whether it addresses real human need. The failure of the economy to prioritise productive work, making and doing the things that people want and need, and the failure of the education system to prioritise the higher orders of human intellectual and emotional potential, are, therefore, closely linked. Transactional economic activity and transactional education are both allowed to displace productive activity because the system of worth that is being applied does not reflect true human value.
(extract from Chapter 15)
Managing the relationship between politics and human behaviour is a key aspect of human politics. The choices and decisions that people make are filtered through a range of complex human motivations, which rarely accord with the unerring self-interest of classical economic theory. Experimental studies repeatedly prove what people know from their own experience, that they routinely place their economic interests second to the well-being they derive from kind, selfless and generous acts. They are also shown to be bad decision makers when working out where their economic self-interest really lies. Either way, they are vulnerable to people and organisations such as commercial companies whose economic self-interest is more coldly calculated. A society that encourages people to get as rich as they can in the mistaken belief that everyone will prosper is increasing that vulnerability, while taking upon itself the cost and responsibility of correcting its subsequent ills. Such a society is deliberately making problems that it then has to fix.
(extract from Chapter 6)