The Social Contract

John Locke is among writers who have said we have a duty to act when the social contract is broken.  One can no doubt pick up a definition at Wiki.  I contend the social contract is now so broken we don’t have one and need a revolution to establish a new, modern one.  We need to think of revolution in modern terms too.  There is little point inflicting the Russian curse of living in interesting times on ourselves and the track record of street rebellion leading to substantial change and bringing genuinely benevolent government is poor.  In the animal world changes in leadership generally bring more of the same, the issues so built-in to the genetic-environmental flux that a new leader may change sex and grow to take on the role.  In social mice one can ‘train’ a weak member of the masses to take on the despot running the show and keeping all others under the thumb, but the new king is just as despotic as the old king.  We humans may pride ourselves on our difference from animals as rational beings, but this is often little more than a mask for our ignorance of biology and ourselves as social animals.  Our behaviour and evolution is influenced even by the bacteria we carry about in and on our bodies.  What we are and are becoming is viewed in terms of the hologenome.

There is little room for doubt that we are now ‘burning the rock we cling to’.  In respect of this we are not listening directly to climate scientists – a matter typical of mass involvement in argument through indirect social-technology designed to prevent any modern fellowship of rationality.  We have a financial system that clearly tips most of our money down steep hills to a tiny number of rich.  The world in which economies can ‘grow’ is dominated by trivia and Soviet-style control of performance management achieved almost literally by giving sugar to our sweet tooth.  I would say a paradigm case of this was David Cameron’s speech at Davos.  How could an ex-Etonian, bastion of priviledge man, son of a lineage using tax havens, from the very country containing the City of London that is hub to off shore looting, with banks laundering criminal and tax evading mega-billiions being bailed-out of its gambling debts from ordinary hard work, be taken seriously by a rational audience on claims the very banksters involved have been asking him to put things right and bring the light of transparency?  Such promises have been made time and again during the 40 years in which the majority have been dumped into debt peonage.

That the social contract is broken is barely in doubt.  Whether people have the facts on which to decide is much less certain.  My own position is that we should try the kind of intelligent private debt jubilee Steve Keen talks and writes about.  My reasoning in this is not directly economic, though Keen makes a good case and the arguments against are largely ideological postures in favour of more of the same mess.  In essence we need to try something that doesn’t involve clown-Utopian outcomes like Soviet Paradise or ‘Great Leap Forward’.  We are social animals not socialists by nature.  There is something directly democratic about giving money to the majority of people to pay down debt or invest and plenty of historical precedent (see David Graber’s ‘Debt: the first 5000 years’) – though as Keen points out we’d need something systemic and more sophisticated.

The issues are not merely ones of economics.  I have long felt, in teaching the subject, that the whole scheme of it is a control fraud relying on the Unsaid in its arguments.  The big Unsaid concerns non-democratic foreign policy and unspoken attitudes that the world is a dirty place, human nature rotten, and we need our leaders free of ethical constraints to combat the inevitably immoral enemy.

At the personal level I’m sure the social contract is broken because I no longer vote.  There is generally no one standing on policies I could vote for – I do vote Green if the chance comes by and would turn out to actively support any modern equivalent of E D Morel (who unseated Churchill in Dundee).  This system effectively disenfranchises people like me and I now think our main political parties are either infiltrated or subject to iron laws of the Weberian type that prevent any modern discussion.  In the UK we are now promised a ‘yes/no’ vote on membership of the EU (irrelevant as other than a vote appealing dodge) but nothing on a coordinated private debt-relief plan to re-schedule a sensible, modern investment in production and capacity to make lives and the planet as safe as we can.

My real escape is to the day job and protecting myself and my own.  There is no politics to engage.  Key economic issues like leadership and its control are barely discussed.  The employment relationship is now HRM dogma, much of which smells of roses whilst the real issues are global wage arbitrage for profit and loss accounting that conceals massive unemployment and under-employment.  Wages and liquid assets held by the many plummet and we educate people into debt without any thought on how to generate the ‘work smarter’ jobs, other than in parasitic financial services.

Financial services as we have them are a contradiction.  Just as the State was supposed to wither away in socialism, so it was hoped would the rentier-class.  I now rely on RT and Al Jazeera as friends behind the Iron Curtain once did BBC World Service (I do spot the propaganda line).  The rentier-class are like the kids who threatened to take their ball home so the rest of us would be stuck with nothing to play with.  The contradiction is they set the rules and yet we are supposed to be free, democratic citizens who can make our own.  We can’t set decent wages because various far-eastern and south Asian workers will take them and render us non-competitive.  My grand metaphor on this is a police force formed with the cheapest foreign labour – but in effect this is wage freeze, pay and numbers cuts.

As a kid I believed British men were good at soccer!  Now the Premier League has only a third of its players home grown.  I live two doors from a guy who played Test cricket and remembers a time when sports heroes weren’t a separate financial class.  Some sports have wage caps and an ethos of the competition itself rather than mere personal and team success.  In the end I’m not concerned that sports success is now business success, the best businesses buying the best players – because I really have no interest at all.  Money has destroyed what used to interest me.

Other models of finance and competition are available to us.  They are ruled out before any teaching or analysis begins.  This is essentially why economics is a control fraud and not a science.  I doubt we can plan an equal society – how can I ‘equalise’ my friend’s blindness (he does a fair job)?  But we can plan competitions – anyone who does the background work to allow me to play in a cricket league can vouch for this.  We could have candidates standing for election on the basis of a private debt jubilee and a financial competition with transparent regulation and a politics not infiltrated with private money.  This would entail democratic control of foreign policy – and this is the stumbling block.  In the West we think we are ahead in the dirty game and would be fools to give up this lead through naive honesty.

The scientist achieves naive honesty by blocking out the Idols of normal ‘reasoning’ at the laboratory door (we all carry some inside – we are human) and constructing carefully constructed special languages with others to discuss and plan experiments.  In some sciences mass is just what we weigh – this approximation is good enough.  In some aspects of physics we are concerned that mass has measurable inertia or gravity – the latter an illusion in general relativity – and some root away for a better explanation than the coincidence.  The central assumptions of various research programmes can be abandoned once enough evidence makes other assumptions more likely to help.

We could be offered a vote now on a debt jubilee and a transparent investment system (etc.).  One could write the plan as a spreadsheet.  I don’t even see this around as a thought experiment to allow discussion of what would work, to allow us to see there are alternatives and so on.  The current mess makes no more sense to me than ritual slashing at my private parts in menstrual imitation and it does look like the crass debt peonage of the Lele.  Almost no anthropology or serious history makes it into ADMASS and precious little biology.  We seem to have ‘forgotten’ there have been other ways to live and that a diet of sweet syrup is not good for the body or soul.

The positive way forward is revolution – but this can’t really be done by the mob. Transparency is the route and I believe this because technology is changing – though currently subsumed into the rich plot as ‘competitive advantage’ (much perhaps as performance enhancing drugs in sport – high frequency trading is a classic front-running scam).  It is now possible to design systems that report in such a manner that having a few seconds advanced tip-off would be irrelevant in financial trading.  The game of chess isn’t much if you can’t see your opponents pieces and moves.

Against the products and services we buy and use, financial services is a cost and we would normally expect such costs to be minimised by competition to a fair level.  The alleged ‘contribution’ of financial services is dubious, both in terms of how it is accounted for and whether it could ever be a contributor at all.  It’s hard to think, say, in war time, that we would be combing our populations for financial services people rather than soldiers (though the role of financial services in creating and in wars is another matter).  The bank and insurance clerk and manager would be unlikely ‘essential occupations’.

I believe most financial services are routine and could be subject to knowledge embodiment in machines – this is already in part true, the problem being access to the technology, a common problem with management information systems.  We have done this with many artisan skills and only “union” resistance prevents a lot more in professional areas.  My guess is the biggest barrier to the embodiment of financial skills in machine driven utilities is this removes the opportunities for control fraud and theft.

If we could level the playing field (but remember even dry, level playing fields favour those who play on them regularly and the mud heap at Hartlepool in the rain is a great leveller), we are left without the cheating competitive advantage that currently allows 10% ‘defence’ spending by the US umbrella – we have to address these matters globally – yet we must address them without this being an excuse to give up.

My way forward would be a mix of systemic private debt relief (if you don’t have any you’d get something to invest) and international public service to replace some of further and higher education and unemployment.  In the detail of the plan we would be looking to return any public investment to the private and social enterprise sector.  As a planner I believe the effort involved would be similar to war planning and my guess is we will have war instead.  A missed element in everything I have read concerns equipping people for the jobs they do and ability to grow in them, and to grow more essential, productive, green capital through this involvement.

The current farce in higher education produces graduate kids who have had three more years of child minding.  Employers claim (rightly) they still don’t have needed skills, but have generally been useless at really identifying what these are, or whether we can knock them into sows’ ears.  These kids are also saddled with debts the size of my mortgage.

I don’t believe this is Utopian thinking – I’m more concerned that we are reduced to impotence and hopelessness.  I have lied and cheated to obtain and spend research funding, banged a few villains up and know the world is a dirty place.  any plan we put in place would have to be managed and that gives the performance managers the chance to ruin all with ‘soviet-statistical’ lying.  This is just one element we can’t get rid of through bureaucratic rules and only by forming a system that doesn’t favour the bureaucratic toadies..