updated 21 November, 2014
As part of the Steady State Manchester project, I’ve been trying to do some work on the implications of a post-growth society and economy for social policy. This is a real cross-over question for me having worked in human services as practitioner and senior bureaucrat (or manager) for more than 30 years before my liberation two years ago from wage-slavery. It also links with some other thinking I’ve been doing on “the mess we’re in“.
There are several issues we need to understand and address in convincing ways.
1) How do we rethink social policy / social welfare in ways that take us away from a way of “administering the inconvenient”, the poor, the delinquent, the sick, the disabled, the unproductive? For both social democrats and neoliberals the productivist assumption seems central and this then leads us to the second issue.
2) How can society finance the support of its population, pooling the risks of sickness, disability, misfortune? Standard thinking here is underpinned by the now pervasive, hegemonic, neoliberal assumption that welfare is not affordable, and indeed has to be financed from the (productive?) economy that relies on growth. Post-Keynesian theory understands that this is a misunderstanding of the creation and function of money and investment, but tends to nevertheless assume continual growth. A recent chapter by the Green Party’s new MEP, and ecological economist, Molly Scott Cato, poses this contradiction.
3) How do we construct the society we want, one where we do live together, respecting and supporting one another, while contributing “from each according to h** ability to each according to h** need”? And that means social policy as “first policy(1)“, (as people and planet first) not as an afterthought to the economy.
There are a number of pieces of work that are helpful here, yet none of them quite deliver what we need. I have in mind the work of the New Economics Foundation (nef) on social policy and welfare and its use of Cahn’s poorly titled “Core Economy” – the lifeworld of social reproduction (to mix phenomenological and Marxian categories), that is the web of interactions and exchange that is not cash or economy-based. For me their suggestions don’t quite convince somehow. However, this working paper on moving away from market models, framed in terms of interests, knowledge and power, with an emphasis on co-production is rather good, and close to my own thinking. A chapter in the Greenhouse think tank’s new book is also helpful but ultimately disappointing. And the IPPR North has recently published a huge tome of a report, irritatingly it has no summary, that has some really useful ideas, taking off from a thoughtful critique of the Tory “Big Society” / “Broken Britain” narrative, yet weakened by uncritical acceptance of the austerity narrative of “there’s no money”, and a continuing adherence to a contingent model of welfare (you get benefits because you’ve contributed), that also fatally undermine Labour’s pretensions of presenting an alternative. Reading the report made me alternately excited and angry.
So to begin work on this I’ve made a table comparing the assumptions and concepts of three approaches, neoliberalism, social democratic welfare Statism, and the post-growth approach we need to develop, what I’m calling here the “Convivial” Social Policy, after Illich with his dual critique of the productivist, energy-rich economy and of the professionalised functions of modern education and healthcare. I might have added in full-blooded State Socialism (with the Semashko model of health services or Mao’s Iron Rice Bowl policy, and the fascinating Cuban variant), or added Christian Democratic/Bismarckian welfare with its social insurance basis. Nor do I distinguish between say the Scandinavian, properly resourced and British half-hearted variants of the social democratic welfare State. But my project is more to construct a new approach, tying some fragments together, than giving an exhaustively accurate analysis of the various models that have met with their own internal (and external) contradictions.
So here is my table, click on the image to see the whole thing as a pdf. I’d really appreciate constructive feedback and reactions to it, and I’ll try to write something more considered about the contributions I’ve briefly mentioned above.
Note 1). By analogy with the notion of “first philosophy” in philosophy. Different philosophies centre their approaches in different areas of philosophy as the fundamental question (e.g. logic, language and meaning, or in the work of my current favourite, Enrique Dussel, ethics).