Guest Post: The Great Separation

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Submitted by Graham Barnes of FEASTA blog ( @GrahamJBarnes ),

What do Scottish independence, UKIP, self-employment, cryptocurrencies and the black economy have in common?
The neo-liberal establishment wont fix itself, so for those fed up with banging their heads against policy brickwalls, there’s only one direction. Separate.

 

The increasing likelihood of a Scottish yes vote hardly represents a success for the SNP’s economic arguments. Voters generally understand that the yes and no camps are trading tailored fictional economic narratives. Few buy into the scenarios painted, believe the promises, or heed the warnings. The bullying of the no campaign reinforces the zeitgeist feeling that Scotland is being bounced by a London centric establishment into a fearful retreat from independent-mindedness. A yes vote, if it comes, will be a signal separation from over-financialisation.

The main UK parties are generally blase about mid-term so-called protest votes, and take the same view of voters that the big banks take of customers – Buggins Turn will see them come back in due course. But the rise of UKIP may be a symptom of more than your average alienation. We may be experiencing the early stages of a proliferation of parties, a fragmentation encouraged (against the electoral system odds) by a creeping awareness of the nature of the democratic deficit. The new definition of a wasted vote is a vote for a party you are not 100% satisfied with. In future elections the hardest choice may be between the Pirate Party and None of the Above.

Recent official announcements on UK employment have emphasised the decrease in unemployment, but the figures reveal a much more telling statistic – that almost 15% of those working are now in self employment. This represents an increase of 367,000 in four years. Of course it is possible to present this as a negative – a migration of desperation designed by a cynical government to keep the unemployment figures down. But there is another dimension to it which should not be overlooked. Without lionising these new self-employees as startup entrepreneurs (a much over respected category according to my FEASTA colleague Brian Davey), for some the change in status can represent an escape from wage slavery. If you are going to take on the responsibility for directing your own employment, then the opportunity to work on something you are passionate about, interested in or committed to should not be overlooked. We know that self-employment is rarely a short cut to financial reward, but it can be a way of reconnecting with what is important in your life – a separation from ‘mainstream’ values. Few people on their deathbed regret that they didn’t spend more time at work.

If the vested interests of the establishment represent an enormous inertia for any meaningful societal or economic change, there is one even more important barrier. The nature of monetary dysfunction is becoming more apparent, though its position as the ‘lynchpin’ of the various interconnected systemic malfunctions is perhaps not yet as clear as its should be.

The appearance of Bitcoin and its subsequent altcoin variations has sometimes been caricatured as a neoliberal response to a state-monopoly of money creation. Whether this was part of Mr Nakamoto’s motivation we will probably never know, but the Bitcoin phenomenon is important for two reasons. First it is a demonstration that ‘other means of exchange are available ‘ in societies that are fed up to the back teeth of being told ‘there is no alternative’ to this that and the other. Second , the innovation at its heart – the blockchain – represents a decentralised ledger that potentially obviates the need for a trusted central management function. We might see this as a sad reflection of a lack of trust in TPTB; or we can see it as a mechanism for democratising trust. Either way altcoins are opening the minds of those that are ‘ripe for separation’.

Finally, what of the black economy. Traditionally, good citizens have seen ethical value in paying their taxes. This fellow-feeling solidarity is based on a fundamental gut feel appreciation of fairness. Orthodox economics has progressively hollowed out this sentiment, and replaced it with ‘enlightened self interest’, in the process legitimising selfish behaviour. At the same time corporations globalise their operations to avoid paying any tax; and citizens are increasingly critical of the misallocation of their tax dollars. We are dangerously close to seeing the taxation rationale completely dismantled. It is not uncommon to hear baby boomers who have willingly paid taxes throughout their lives express deep disaffection and an inclination to evade. Why should a median income worker in Ireland pay 52% marginal rate tax, while Apple pays 2%? A generation ago the Black Economy was the habitat of choice for criminals; unless some progress is made with regards to inequality, fairness and inclusion, it may well be the habitat of choice for all of us in the future.

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The neo-liberal establishment wont fix itself, so for those fed up with banging their heads against policy brickwalls, there’s only one direction. Separate.