Last week Opposition shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen gave an address to The Financial Services Council Leaders’ Summit 2016. In it he used the phrase “Open or Closed”. It came as a surprise, firstly because I had written on the subject some time ago and secondly, because I had not heard an Australian politician ever utter the words.
It of course refers to “Open or Closed society’s” versus Left and Right.
Here is part of Bowen’s speech:
“But I want to spend a few minutes today to also speak about the Australian election in the international context. Around the world, political elites are dealing with the rise of the disenfranchised and disillusioned. People disillusioned by anaemic growth and growing income inequality are being sold simple messages that the answer to their problems and their nations problems is isolation; isolation from trade, isolation from immigration.
This of course is being established in different ways around the world, but with common themes. Britain was told they would be better off out of the European Union. France is being told by Marine Le Pen that they would be better off without migration and globalisation.
In Austria, the two major parties on the centre right and centre left were excluded from the recent Presidential elections by parties on the extreme right and extreme left with equally simple solutions to complex problems.
And of course in the United States, voters are being sold a solution which involves the building of walls and the erection of barriers.
A political debate is raging across the planet – open versus closed.”
The phrase Open Vs Closed originated from a speech by the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. He explained it this way.
So what is an open society? It is a society where powerful citizens are free to shape their own lives. It has five vital features: i) social mobility, so that all are free to rise;
- ii) Dispersed power in politics, the media and the economy;
iii) Transparency, and the sharing of knowledge and information;
- iv) A fair distribution of wealth and property; and
- v) An internationalist outlook
By contrast a closed society is one in which: i) a child’s opportunities are decided by the circumstances of their birth
- ii) Power is hoarded by the elite
iii) Information is jealously guarded
- iv) Wealth accumulates in the hands of the few, not the many; and
- v) Narrow nationalism trumps enlightened internationalism
Closed societies – opaque, hierarchical, insular – are the sorts of society my party has opposed for over a hundred and fifty years.
If you read the full speech it is easy to understand why there are those who believe that Liberalism in its purest form is arguably the best and most suited political philosophy for addressing the problems of tomorrow.
There is a broad acceptance among political thinkers that ideological philosophies of the old Left Vs Right kind are past there used by date and are being replaces by Open Vs Closed.
The new thinkers on economics even suggest that Capitalism is fighting for its survival with democracy its enemy.
In an interview with Leo Benedictus talking about the film The Divide, Noam Chomsky was asked the following.
So have you become more optimistic now you believe a hunger for change is showing itself around the world?
“I think we have the seeds of change. They can flourish and address the massive problems we face. They may not. We don’t know. That’s a choice. And we haven’t even talked about the worst problems: the economic problems are bad enough, as are the social problems, but far worse than these are the major threats to the survival of the human species – the threat of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe. Here, if you look at the US primaries, you have to be impressed and appalled by the utter irrationality of the species. Here are two enormous problems that have to be faced right now, and they are almost absent from the primaries.”
What effect would electing Donald Trump have?
“It’s hard to say because we don’t really know what he thinks. And I’m not sure he knows what he thinks. He’s perfectly capable of saying contradictory things at the same time. But there are some pretty stable elements of his ideology, if you can even grant him that concept. One of them is: “Climate change is not taking place.” As he puts it: “Forget it.” And that’s almost a death knell for the species – not tomorrow, but the decisions we take now are going to affect things in a couple of decades, and in a couple of generations it could be catastrophic.”
If it were between Trump and Hillary Clinton, would you vote for Clinton?
“If I were in a swing state, a state that matters, and the choice were Clinton or Trump, I would vote against Trump. And by arithmetic that means hold your nose and vote for Clinton.”
How do you turn a plutocracy into a democracy?
“It’s not very hard. In the US, it simply means going back to mainstream ideas. To quote John Dewey, the leading US social philosopher of the 20th century, until all institutions – industrial, commercial, media, others – are under democratic control, or in the hands of what we now call stakeholders, politics will be the shadow cast by big business over society. That’s elementary and it can be done.”
As Friedrich Hayek “The Road to Serfdom” says:
“By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how.’’
In my own piece I wrote:
“Australian politics has descended into a murky pit of corruption, vindictiveness and scandal on both sides. The pursuit of power for powers sake has taken on an importance that relegates the common good to a distant second. Personal gain has surpassed public service. People of questionable character hold high office and influence. Big business has become the senior advisor. Economics has become the barometer of a successful society rather than the wellbeing of the people.
Political controversy and conflict has always been with us and probably always will be, but for the future of our democracy it needs to be tempered with a contest of ideas. Better people need to be elected to parliament. People with a wide range of experiences. Not just party hacks but people with character, with desire for change, for truth, for equality, for justice and with an honourable understanding of what public service is.”
This then leads me back to my question.
Are the political ideologies of today suited to address the problems of tomorrow?
Well let me put it this way. I am born and bred of the left but I don’t have a closed mind. I do believe that the problems of today and tomorrow are so overwhelming that they require solutions that go beyond an ideology first mentality. A politic that puts it all aside and simply says, “What serves the common good”.
That might be termed good government.
My thought for the day.
“The ideas of today need to be honed with critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of enquiry so that they clearly articulate the currency of tomorrow“.
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