What is Progress?

There are misconceptions that: only ‘Big Business’ can generate the lifestyle that we seek collectively; in order to make the poor richer, we must make the rich richer, if we regulate the corporate tax avoiders no-one will have a job and that support for a welfare state undermines the efforts of hard-working tax payers. Failed communism is often referenced as the only alternative and the suggestion is that without the golden chalice of capitalism we will suddenly live in a commune, with no lighting, cuddling a goat. The Russian’s had a space program too. They just didn’t fake a moon landing. China did. Don’t get me started.

My phone is gone. It has bounced out of my scooter basket when I hit a speed bump in Rishikesh. It was then picked up by a monkey, who ran into the woods. Funny symbolism that. It’s like a comedy remake of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Iphones are big here. Iphones are a symbol of capitalist success. The youth here sit glued to them watching videos of billionaire pop stars and fast cars. However, I can’t help feeling that proper sanitation, decent schooling or an affordable hospital would not be a greater symbol of progress here. 

For me, progress is civilisation. We have come along way from running around the woods finding things. We have also come a long way from the dawn of industrialisation, where employment law meant a nine year old worked at the mill twelve hours a day.[1] That assumes of course that the mill owner was inclined to follow new legislation. Civilisation for me is a framework of principles, established through social democracy: labour laws, work-life balance, decent wages, welfare state, affordable homes and proper justice. We can thank progress that, aged nine, we were not working standard twelve hour days down ‘t mill.

Trickle down economic theory suggests that lower tax rates for the richest should benefit people of all incomes. Instead, it has demonstrated the opposite. It has proven to worsen income inequality.[2] Not only that, the increasing power granted to corporations through this policy is restrictive to lower level entrepreneurship. Our butchers, bakers and food stores are hardest hit, unable to compete with the huge monopolies afforded to the likes of Walmart (Asda) and Morrisons who also receive their, ‘trickle down’ tax breaks. Genuine contributors to our local communities are marginalised en masse, to be replaced with zero hour contracts and government lobbying for reduced employment rights.[3] I argue we are not breeding a population of people unwilling to work. I argue we are instead breeding a sense of futility in a marketplace that is ever-increasingly dominated by fewer, privileged players. A major, global, social issue presents itself, too. Supermarkets are literally forcing their suppliers out of business in a bid to offer cheaper prices.[4] To cite a further example, Uber, celebrated as a capitalist revelation in the provision of taxis, are quickly gaining a huge monopoly on the market by under-cutting the like of Amber Taxis in Armley. What effect will their plan for driver-less cars have on the number of global unemployed and seeking benefits?

My friend is not a fan of labour. She works hard. She is keen to state that she works for ‘employers’, often fighting against unions. In this case you can understand the frustrations she may carry for unions. However, my opinion of this situation is different. I see an Employment Solicitor, earning good money (ironically with a specialism in the public sector) in a section of the economy that only exists due to the very Employment Laws the Labour movement helped to establish.

We are open to new economies if we maintain an open mind. Let’s stop offering huge tax breaks and subsidies to established oil giants.[5] Not only do they form monopolies that then result in price fixing, they blind our economy to the opportunities presented by global leadership in solutions that wont hurry us to Mars.

The Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership seek to establish the rights of corporations over the rights of elected governments in the interest of free trade. [6] This sets a dangerous precedent when Philip Morris Tobacco Company are suing the Uruguayan and Australian governments for billions against rulings in relation to health warnings on cigarette packets.[7] The packet of fags I’m currently smoking here are called, ‘Win’. The TTIP represents a nail in the coffin for the shifting of power, from the democratically elected, to the richest. Wiki-leaks leaks of TTIP proposed contents into the public domain have caused outrage.[8] The TTIP will mean that governments will be outgunned financially and legally when attempting to make decisions in the social interest. Corporations will set the rules. Subverting democracy. This is not progress.

Progress is civilisation. This means democracy. This means effective regulation to avoid exploitation and monopoly. This means an end to the neoliberal dream of TTIP. Civilisation means that we can all shit in a proper toilet, get our broken bones fixed and afford an education that can help us to understand where the social interest lies. We might even be able to have iphones. And one day we might land on the moon.

Other relevant articles:


[1] https://eh.net/encyclopedia/child-labor-during-the-british-industrial-revolution/

[2] https://www.thebalance.com/trickle-down-economics-theory-effect-does-it-work-3305572

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-norman/walmart-lobbyists_b_3632526.html

[4] http://news.sky.com/story/supermarket-wars-failing-food-producers-10381382

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/budget-2016-tax-cuts-for-the-british-oil-industry-2016-3?IR=T

[6]Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy’, Kerry-Ann Mendoza.

[7]Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy’, Kerry-Ann Mendoza.

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/04/ttip-tpp-trade-deals-secrecy-greenpeace-leak

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