I have a dream, to coin a phrase. It is that human creativeness will become the agreed objective of political economy.
Creativeness is more fulfilling and inclusive than happiness. Economics will be put in its place – not a science but as the servant of ethics, exercised through the democratic political process. (Bear with me for the dream: I come to the means later).
How is human creativeness fostered?
By all research, it starts in the character of childhood experience, and is reinforced through good education with inspiring adults. Children are more creative who are appreciated rather than deprecated, who attract affection, humour and respect instead of scorn, dismissal and insult, whose bodies are treated with tenderness and not violence. Of course creativity can spring from appalling pain, but more often it is crushed.
What kind of political economy supports that kind of childhood experience?
In essence it is one in which their dependency needs can be met – their weakness, their neediness, that trusting expectation of care which adults find so touching. The total dependence of babies and small children is what captures the hearts of even the hardest of adults, and gets us outraged when children are damaged, their small bodies traduced, their trust abused.
And what kind of situation gets dependency needs met? We all know that it is about carers with the resources, the time, the personal sense of security and the inclination to meet children’s individual physical and emotional needs and enjoy doing so.
Contrast that with the experience of the great majority of children world-wide. Adults have the care of children in situations without any of the necessary conditions. Millions of mothers must tell their children there is no food, so there is no point in crying. Even middle class parents in the North have little financial security: jobs are casualised from the top of large corporations to the level of the checkout. Even if the worst does not happen, the fear of traumatic loss is deeply corrosive to relaxed, enjoyable family life.
Over a hundred leading childhood specialists of various disciplines wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph this week. They describe widespread depression and other behavioral and developmental problems among British children, who are expected to cope with a variety of carers, in a fast-moving competitive culture, pushed by market forces and exposed to material unsuitable to their stage of growth.
They say children need real food and real play, as opposed to junk food and sedentary second-hand entertainment: they need proper time-taking attention. The result of its lack is a rise in substance abuse, violence and self-harm – and a sharp reduction in academic achievement.
Publication in the Telegraph suggest the Tories will use this issue against the Labour government. Which is ironic, because it is the political economy they introduced in the 1970s that lead to children’s needs being ditched in favour of the fast competitive commercial culture that eats up everyone today.
All policy-makers now put competition at the top of the agenda – not only in the private but also the public sector. Your job is on the line unless your output is high and rising. The security of your income and the ease of your family life is the last thing that counts.
Whereas in my children’s early years my journalist husband could afford to keep us all in reasonable comfort, all my children’s families must bring in two incomes while they raise children. So today’s children are deprived of consistent, relaxed, responsive parental care to create minimal financial security.
And every government bends every effort to push single parents into the workplace, rather than paying them to care for their own children. You would think we were desperate for labour – rather than desperately short of jobs. Making people work for money, as a condition of survival, is the weirdest, and cruelest, of the outcomes of the current political economy.
How would that have to change to make the dream come true?
Money must come back down from the top where it accumulates in the financial sector and diminishes national purchasing power. That sector pushes up property prices, and keeps labour costs low and unemployment high. The financial sector must stop hoarding our buying power to use it for speculation. That means limiting its right to send capital round the world in search of richer pickings. Fortunately there are signs that the tide has turned. Economists like Joseph Stiglitz, and the king of global capital, George Soros, warn that without widespread redistribution – via capital controls in some form – the world is heading for financial disaster. The globalised capital market, says Soros, ‘is more dangerous to capitalism than communism ever was’.
Popular opinion is changing too
Politicians in Sweden, now facing election, have attacked elements in the financial sector; a German politician likens some bond dealers to locusts. And in Britain, the Observer’s city columnist, Anthony Hilton predicts that a change in No 10 Downing Street would be ‘bad news for City’s fat cats’, because there is a popular revulsion against City incomes.
That would be the start of a political economy that would enable democratic governments to allocate resources to suit their own electorate rather than to attract footloose capital. It will not create the dream overnight, but it will remove the most savage barrier to its conception, and then its birth.