In Britain, there is much talk of something called the ‘Big Society’. This in essence is a set of ideas being promulgated by the Prime Minister, David Cameron and the less hard edged supporters of his Government. As such it is something of an improvement on an infamous intervention by one of his Conservative predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, who famously said “there is no such a thing as society”. So in some respects we should be grateful that the modern day conservatives have moved beyond the idea of laissez fair individualism. After all, look at the mess that has got us all into.
So what is this ‘Big Society’? At one level, since many of Mr Cameron’s own supporters don’t appear to know, it could be as vapid and meaningless as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton’s ‘third way’, an oxymoron for a retreat from traditional social democracy to an acceptance of a more sweetly wrapped neo liberalism. That was all very well during the boom years, and has a continuing attraction to the Market Leninists in Beijing. I’ve recently been asked to explain what it all means to the Congress of the Mongolian Socialist Party in Ulan Bator.
But I think I have rumbled Mr Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. It is code for a retreat by the State from responsibility, the idea being that individuals take on responsibility for much that the State was wont to provide, paid for by our taxes. But since only “the little people” pay taxes, and since the productive base of the British economy was auctioned off years ago, and since the bankers completed the job of pulling the plug on the economy, there is not a great deal left to fund those things that we all believed were ours for ever; decent pensions in old age, public libraries and local services. Now we are told that the deficit is so huge that the State cannot afford to do very much anymore – although I will be somewhat surprised if the super rich feel any pain, or that Britain won’t continue to pour money into unwinnable wars and new nuclear submarines, whose missiles are aimed at imaginary threats.
No, the baby boomers have singularly failed us all. They want us to feel the pain of the banking crisis, they want us to make the sacrifices, to work longer for less and look forward to shrinking pensions. They cannot even offer us any hope that the ‘Big Society’s medicine will make us any better, because they are not bold enough, or clever enough to realise that we need to spend our way out of recession and spend money wisely on rebuilding our shattered productive economic base.
These arguments just as equally pertain to America, currently experiencing record levels of unemployment, and grotesque disparities in wealth. A country where working people increasingly can’t find work, but who are whipped into a frenzy by the Murdoch media and the Tea Party lunatics into believing that elementary universal health care is some kind of Communist plot.
The baby boomers in both Britain and America were ironically the greatest beneficiaries of the post war Labour Government’s welfare state and Roosevelt’s New Deal. They had the benefit of state sponsored higher education, free dental care and much else besides. They have kicked the ladder away, claiming that we can no longer afford the sort of cradle to grave support that now allows the baby boomers an age expectancy beyond their parent’s wildest dreams. And to cap it all, the true believers in the post war reality of a big, generous, society, built the new Jerusalem from the shattered ruination of war and deficits that make our current financial difficulties pale into insignificance.
What a pathetic indictment of a generation that had it all, and now insists that successor generations live out their lives amongst the ashes of broken dreams and promises.
Shame on them.