Searching for a new economic and social model

Years ago my local cricket club had an eccentric umpire who had been inspired by the zealous socialist wing of the 1960s Labour Party. His idea of warming up for his afternoon duties was to recite the speeches of Tony Benn and chant the Red Flag in our tiny changing room.

Our umpire bore the years of Thatcherism with good grace but, when New Labour dropped Clause 4 and ushered in the masters of the universe, he became morose and silent.

This week I pictured our old friend fumbling in his bottom drawer for fading copies of the Socialist Worker. Out of the ashes of our financial system rises the dream of Old Labour, the nationalisation of major banks. On both sides of the Atlantic, such an outcome now seems inevitable.

By chance, we updated our Cuba Guide this week, reacquainting ourselves with another titan of 1960s socialism. Fidel Castro will be dancing on his hospital bed at the humiliation of American supremacy.

His brother, Raul, now the president, may be less joyful. Cuba’s state-controlled economy has neglected to insulate itself from globalisation and is in trouble. It’s no use promising your citizens equal access to good nutrition, health and education if you fail to farm your land efficiently.

Cuba is a fascinating relic of old socialism rather than a springboard for the new. The World Social Forum more promisingly seized the initiative from the ditherers at Davos in an appeal for signatures to a “new economic and social model”. It calls for a reversal of “30 years of transfer of income from labour towards capital”.

However, this charter simply seeks to abolish all the bad things in the financial system, from hedge funds to uncontrolled capital flows – hardly visionary. I can’t imagine OneWorld UK signing up to a list of demands that fails to mention climate change.

We are following a false scent in our obsession with discredited trading mechanisms and their excessive rewards. The root problem with the financial system is its failure to attribute value to finite natural resources and negative value to pollution.

I sense that the human dimension of a fairer world could flow from this economic principle, just as communism believed that justice depended on workers owning the means of production.

Back to Cuba for the last word on this week’s lurch to the left. Raul Castro has taken the hatchet to his brother’s dogma by conceding that maybe some workers are more equal than others when it comes to wages. His government passed Resolution 9 for 2008 which announced that:

los trabajadores que están abarcados por sistemas de pago vinculados a los resultados directos de la producción de bienes y servicios, no tienen límite en el salario que pueden devengar por sobre cumplimiento de los indicadores formadores previstos en el sistema de pago, evaluándose siempre que no se deterioren otros indicadores de eficiencia planificados, incorporados en el sistema de pago

If I’m not mistaken, this translates loosely as “workers can in future be paid a bonus based on performance, with no limit to salary”.

We do indeed live in strange times.

this article was first published by OneWorld UK