Listen to the audio file of session IV (MP3 format)
Session IV – Action
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ian Rappel: Colin, we’ve talked about the diagram, a conceptual diagram that was behind the Great Re-think. And within that, you’ve identified an area that you called infrastructure, which is about what we need. Can you tell us a bit more about that? And perhaps work us through some of the things?
Colin Tudge: Yeah. Well, the job of the infrastructure, as I’m calling it, which is basically the organisational apparatus of the society, is to help us to translate our ambition, as human beings, which I suggest should be the goal, into reality, into action. And as I keep saying, I’ll say it again, the goal should be to create convivial societies, which enable or allow, encourage, personal fulfilment, and lead overall to a flourishing biosphere. That’s the goal. We’re need a mechanism that will help us to get there, our structural organisation. The whole endeavour, whatever infrastructure you finish up with, must be rooted in the bedrock principles, as I call them, of morality and ecology. Morality, asking the question, what is it good to do? And ecology asking the questions, what do we need to do in order to create a good society? And what is it possible to do within the limits of the earth?
If you look at our present plight, you know, all the disasters are now falling upon our heads over the whole world, many people blame this on the world and the actual earth and say, well it is too difficult a place to live in. In fact, of course, it’s all there is anyway, but it’s paradoxical. It’s the most amazing place. And other people, particularly sort of politicians who like to prove that they’ve got some reason for being in life – I don’t dislike all politicians, incidentally, I think some are absolutely brilliant, but the ones that seem to dominate the government, tend to be bloody awful. But many people, particularly that kind of person, blames humanity for the disaster. Saying well, we’re greedy, and we’re venal, and we can’t cooperate, and we all want to get rich at everybody else’s expense. That’s the common belief. Goes right back to Plato, actually. And I just don’t think that’s true. I mean, I don’t really think, as we will discuss, I think, well, perhaps we’ve discussed already. Human beings are not innately bad and evil and selfish. Human beings, are perfectly capable, if nothing else, of being very, very nice and passionate, compassionate and helpful. And that’s what we’ve got to build on. And it’s there. But the reason, then, that the whole world is now collapsing, given that the world’s okay, human beings are okay, is the organisation, the infrastructure. It’s to pot. And basically, the present infrastructure is not focused on what I’m suggesting should be the goal. It’s not actually trying to create convivial societies, personal fulfilment, etc. And still less is it concerned to look after the living world, the biosphere. And it’s got a false understanding of what the raw materials are. I mean, it doesn’t know how the world works, obviously governments haven’t got a clue. And they don’t really know anything about human nature, they just assume that they’re all selfish and need to be kept in our place, etc, etc.
And in general, of course, if you look at the world of the governments, the wrong people are in charge. I mean it’s very obvious. It’s remarkable how many of the world’s leaders now and in the recent past, let alone the deep past, have been serious psychopaths. A psychopath or sociopath, but psychopaths, who really have nothing in their heads except the desire to conquest or to conquer, or to be very, very rich, or to reestablish what empires they once had, which is what Putin is now trying to do, reestablish the USSR. Nonsense. I mean, and to aggrandize himself. He’s a psychopath. How come he’s in charge? And there are others. Bolsonaro. Okay, he’s more or less gone. Yes, Netanyahu, Modi in India, the chap who has taken over Burma, etc, etc, etc. So that is – wrong people in charge with the wrong ideas is what’s the cause of our troubles.
And this is why we really need to rethink absolutely everything from first principles. This is why, you know across the board, re-think, as in the diagram, and why we need to bring about a renaissance, a complete change of what I say, metamorphosis, which is change of form, and metanoia which is change of mindset. Both need to be done. And furthermore, this renaissance, as we’ve discussed, but I’ll say it again, has to be led by us. People at large, because the powers that be, the infrastructure, they haven’t got their minds on this at all. They’ve got their own ambitions to do with raising money and staying in power, all that stuff. In practice then, the infrastructure has three main components, which one might call governance, the economy, and the law. And I think we should perhaps look at each of those in turn.
Ian Rappel: Let’s start with governance then. I mean, that’s obviously a topic that you’re very passionate about so we’ll start there, I think.
Colin Tudge: Yeah, good. Governance is abstract, doesn’t necessarily mean government. Although, in fact, it does. I mean, in the 19th century – well, still really in parts of the world, but particularly in 19th century – Russia, anarchism was a very strong movement embraced by serious intellectuals. Anarchism, not meaning just random disorder, which is what people think anarchy means, but actually running a society without a formally appointed government, without what we might – well, yeah, basically, that’s it. And Tolstoy, no less, Leo, wrote an essay, published an essay in 1900, called On Anarchy, very specifically. And he wrote, the anarchists are writing everything in the negation of the existing order. And then the assertion that without authority, there could not be worse violence than that of authority under existing conditions. I think that applies pretty well, to today’s position. Tolstoy more or less gave up writing novels, after Anna Karenina. He didn’t think Anna Karenina was very good. And he devoted himself to political traction, running his estate, integrating himself with the peasantry, because he was a count – a serious aristocrat – and generally writing pamphlets and things like this. Anyway, anarchy has been strong. However, it’s probable – because we need organisation at various levels, where we need someone to make decisions of an international nature, for example, if you’re interested in conservation, as we obviously both are, you need intellectual international laws to make sure birds don’t get slaughtered as the etc, etc, on their way around migrating – so then, we probably do need some kind of government. Unfortunately. The question then arises, what kind of government do we actually need, and identified a few criteria of things they better to do.
First of all, the government must be trying to do the right things, must be trying to create convivial societies, labour, personal fulfilment, etc, etc, etc. It’s got to establish a goal, its goal, and that, I’m suggesting, is what its goal ought to be. I also point out the obvious that it’s obviously not what the goal of the Tory government is, unless they’ve got it seriously wrong.
Secondly, the government – whatever form it takes – must be on our side. I mean, they’re supposed to be representing us, they should be for us. As Abraham Lincoln very famously put it after the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1863, Under God, government of the people, by the people, for the people. Now that’s not bad. And it’s a million miles, I suggest, from what we have, even in a country like Britain, which is supposed to be a great democracy.
Bob Nye Bevins – the Welsh coal miner, who is one of the great labour politicians of the 20th century – he in wrote his personal manifesto in 1952, called In Place of Fear. And he asked what exactly is a representative, given that you need representative government? And he said, a representative person is one who will act in a given situation in much the same way as those he represents, as those he represents would act in that same situation. In short, who must be of their kind. And I think that’s pretty good, too. I think possibly one of the best statements of all comes from Jesus, no less, as recorded in the Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 10, verses 42 to 44: Whoever would be great among you, must be your servant, and whoever will be first among you must be slave to all. Again, you look at modern politicians, most of them, Boris, etc. So we’re just falling far short. And in 2010, you know, when we entered this period of austerity, David Cameron, who was then Prime Minister, Tory Prime Minister said, never mind, chaps, we’re all in this together. Now we’re in hell. And during that period of austerity, so many people suffered so much, really. And a whole generation of children growing up were really often quite seriously deprived. The rich got richer. And the rich, of course, included David Cameron. And it’s always the case, and we all go through these periods of austerity and the rich come out the other side richer, than they went in. And that will be true of the recession that’s coming up. Now that could last a decade. We – not we, not me personally, you know, I’ve a nice pension – but you know, millions of people in this country are going to suffer seriously. But, you can guarantee that the top 10% of wealthy people will come out of it better than they went in, in material terms.
In practice, then, we’re not ruled by a government that is of the people and for the people. We’re ruled in practice the world over by an oligarchy – power by the few. And the real main players in this oligarchy are big governments like ours, the corporates, which now are often much more powerful than most national governments. The financiers – who are not the same people as the corporates necessarily – the bankers and so on, but they control the purse strings more than anybody else. Plus, they’re sort of Penumbra entourage of very carefully selected experts, and intellectuals, many of whom are in academe, who tell them basically what they want to hear. And if intellectuals and experts tell them what they don’t want to hear, they get sidelined. In their own movement, the Real Farming Trust or the College for Real Farming and Food Culture, it’s got people in it, contributing to it, who know much more than anybody in government, about the living world and about agriculture and food. But they are in effect sidelined. I mean, we have some good meetings, and we’ve got the College going. But we’re not at the centre of power. And even at this moment, governments actually ignore the real expertise, which tends to be sidelined. And if you look at who have been the secretaries of state in charge of agriculture over the last 15 to 20 years, basically, it’s either old politicians being put out to grass, whether they thought they do least harm, like Margaret Beckett, under Labour, or by what’s his name, Owen Patterson, under the conservatives, neither of whom know tiddly squat about agriculture, or really cared about it. Or its young bloods on the way up, who will go on to better things. As David Miliband did; he was good secretary of state by political standards for time, then, of course, he was off to the foreign office, I think it was, and then he was lost, as you know, and at the moment, and of course, in the recent past, and Liz Truss was considered to be an up and coming star. But she was in the middle of ag for a bit. And she told British farmers, the British people, that it was a disgrace – famously on film saying this – disgrace that we don’t produce more cheese, and recommending that British farmers should be producing more pigs to feed to the Chinese, which is a sort of global centre of pigs raised in a traditional fashion. I mean this is gross; it’s totally out of sync with what is needed.
Ian Rappel: Thinking about all you’re saying, just to sort of reflect on it, I mean, first of all, if we think about the work of the Real Farming Trust, on the development of the Oxford Real Farming Conference itself, it’s a counter narrative, isn’t it, to the mainstream? And also, I mean, for what you’re saying, means that it’s embedded within a tradition. And within a tradition of, if you like, democratic struggle against, you know, a very corporate model of society. So thinking of things like I think in the 1930s, John Dewey, the American sociologist and educationalist, he said something like, government is the shadow cast on society by big business. You know, so these, these really sort of tensions have been around a while. I think thinking about the kind of the need for representative democracy that you’re talking about, which is obviously central to challenging the mainstream, some of the issues that you raised, you know, came to the fore in instances, like the Paris Commune, where there were very sharp discussions about how do we get representation. It’s not just electing somebody every four years; it’s having a meaningful and dynamic democratic discourse with your representative, so that you don’t just log them in, and then four years later, you try and recall them or whatever. So at the heart of the challenge them – and it’s framed, you know, in an agricultural context, in a lot of cases with the work that the Real Farming Trust does – there’s actually those rich traditions to tap into and be informed by. And most crucially, I suspect, learn the lessons of, you know, so that we know we don’t, we’re not drawn into or co-opted into the mainstream. We maintain our sort of our struggles and so on. So, I mean, does that make sense to us?
Colin Tudge: Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.
Ian Rappel: So the ORFC then? I mean, you set that up as a counter-conference effectively, to the [Oxford] Farming Conference? And that’s a very important first step, isn’t it, toward generating the energy and the discourse needed to challenge.
Colin Tudge: As you say, though, I mean, we will get onto this later, how we actually affect change. But as you say, this, in a sense, the basic realisation that this is the case, goes back at least to classical times. And I think one of the big questions is what is different about the present that will make us possible for us to bring about the necessary change? Which, for example, the Levellers in the 17th century weren’t able to do; or what Tyler in the 14th century wasn’t able to do; or indeed Spartacus wasn’t able to do. What’s different now? And I think there are different things, but maybe we can hone in on it.
Ian Rappel: Well I mean, that takes us into how we enable things to happen, I suppose.
Colin Tudge: The third, I’d say, fundamental requirement – what’s the government actually for? I think it should be to enable and help encourage good things to happen. And it’s up to us as a society to define what those good things are. In this particular context, of course, I’m suggesting, and you’re agreeing, that we need to set up agriculture along the lines of enlightened agriculture, real farming, small farms, etc, etc. So that’s the kind of thing that ought to happen. That’s what government ought to be helping to happen. And in fact, in practice, it stands in the way, certainly of that, and generally does. So we find, and the more general point, again was put by Abraham Lincoln – a wise old bird, a lawyer who pretended to be a backwoods man – very clever act. Anyway, he talked about human beings, the better angels of our nature. And the better angels of our nature mean, of course, you know, compassion and conviviality and all those things. And I would like to say that the job of government is to help or to enable the better angels of our nature to stick their heads above the parapet without getting them knocked off. Which again, in the present world is very difficult, because we live in a world that is opposed to the ultra competitive, all against all. It is, except, of course, that there are cartels, or close alliances between power groups, stringing together for their own purposes, shutting out the rest. But apart from that, the whole thing is meant to be of nature, red in tooth and claw. Grotesque. Again, the exact opposite of what should what should be happening.
And the fourth requirement, I suggest, of government is that it must be competent. Above all, it must be able to handle the economy for our benefit. And it can’t. It doesn’t even try. Let the market decide is the neoliberal slogan. So that are the basic requirements of governments, governance. And the basic requirements of governments, since in practice, you do need a government, and some intonation of how far they fall short, and why wrong people, wrong ideas, etc.
What then, one might ask, are the essential components of a good government? What should we be looking for? And I suggest actually, there are two – two main ones. One of which is democracy, as you just mentioned, and the second is, I would say some variation on a theme of socialism, which I would like to discuss in a bit. But let’s just look at them in turn.
Think about democracy, the first feeling one has about it. All these things are very much based on what you feel is really the case in your bones. We’ll come on to that in the next session. But, you know, morality is a question of what you feel is right. And one of the points about democracy, your main point, is that it just feels right, as has often been said, We ought to be free, at least to make our own mistakes. And in fact, the government makes mistakes on our behalf, as they make the most horrendous mistakes, of which a recent one, of course, is Brexit. And more recent one is, Liz Truss and quasi wrecking the economy, and so on and so on. But you can face this right back as far as your like, Treaty of Versailles, Suez, and so on and son on. Huge mistakes made by government on our behalf, which of course, mess us all up. The war in Iraq, actually huge, of course. So we genuinely need people in a democracy; in practice, can’t be anarchic purely. It needs – we do need, what do you call them? Genuine representatives. And Nye Bevin, who was a Welsh coal miner, who became a politician, first in Parliament in 1929. I didn’t realise it was so long ago, but it was. And in 1952, he wrote a personal manifesto called In Place of Fear, and in that he defined a representative person: a representative person is one who will act in a given situation, in much the same way as those he represents would act in the same situation. In short, he must be of their kind. I think I said this earlier, but I’ll say it again, shall I? Just as easy. And in my view, nobody has ever improved on Jesus’s comment, as recorded the Gospel of St Mark, that whoever would be great among you must be your servant. And whoever would be the first among you must be a slave to all. And again, one can see how very far short real governments fall of that.
Then you start to come to the difficulties. First of all, it’s very hard, first of all, to select the kind of person who could represent us, because on the whole, the people that really want to be – not on the whole, but to a large extent – the people who really want to be in charge, and really want to be a politician and help to control things – are very often just personally ambitious. They’re really the very last people you actually want to be in charge. And that’s a huge problem. Then there’s the problem that Lord Acton, who was a historian, statesman, end of the 19th century, said, You’ve got to give a government some power, otherwise, it’s got no point at all. But as Lord Acton said, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are nearly always bad men. And again, examples abound, I suggest, Putin being quite a good one. Again, democracy doesn’t work unless everybody in society takes a serious interest in what’s going on, or as many people as possible take as serious an interest as possible. This could be, as I’m sure you know, immensely tedious. Endless evenings in draughty church halls, that kind of stuff. And Oscar Wilde, no less, made a comment about this. The trouble with democracy, he said, it takes up too many evenings. And isn’t that true? It’s very good. And I think the sort of last word on this, as far as I’m concerned, to do anyway, is Winston Churchill’s comment: Democracy is the worst system there is, apart from all the others. It’s not bad though.
Ian Rappel: Well one of the areas I think that’s interesting about democracy is its relationship to ecology, which doesn’t get a lot of discussion. So if we think about an ecosystem, in a way it functions as a sort of, I mean, it’s a different kind of idea, but it functions as a sort of democracy, doesn’t it? Species participate on their own basis. I mean, there’s no voting or anything like that, but the interactions are open. And some of what we talked about with things like real farming and enlightened agriculture and agroecology and all of the movements that surround that. I always think one of the important areas for democratic thoughts are around ecology, because we are going to always, I suspect, make mistakes ecologically as we as we support our societies, especially through agriculture. But we don’t have the platforms to learn those mistakes. So if we think back to someone like Rachel Carson, for instance, who pointed out the impact of artificial pesticides, you know, back in ‘62 or ‘63 or whatever it was back then. So that’s it – it was well established at that point, that these things would lead us to a major catastrophic crisis for invertebrates, and that would cascade through food chains and all that stuff. And yet, that’s exactly where we are now. So what we were not able to do was to, if you like, lift the ecological lessons that Carson placed in front of us and many others, and through democratic means, both debate and understand the lessons to be learned, and also take a stand off in a viable direction, you know. So the impetus for democracy isn’t just the means of running society and the need for justice, but it’s also an ecological imperative, isn’t it?
Colin Tudge: I agree entirely. Very good.
Ian Rappel: Anyway, socialism! Small topic.
Colin Tudge: Loaded, loaded word. So loaded, I think you know, that the so called New Labour government, under Blair and Brown, I think they more or less banned the word socialism. They simply didn’t use it. The point is, to me, that a lot of people, I’m almost sure – including loads of people in high places, and loads of people among the general populace, who call themselves socialists – misconstrue the nature of socialism, just as people misconstrue the nature of economics or the nature of science. But they misconstrue the nature of socialism. And they tend to think – and this is the kind of definition that comes creeping out of Google, if you look it up – they tend to think that socialism exclusively about or is primarily an economic model, and is primarily a matter of public ownership, where public ownership tends to mean state ownership and control. So that you finish up with what’s called a centralised economy, which an extreme case means that every transaction passes through government, or has to be sanctioned by government, before you can carry on with it. There’s so much wrong with this. I mean, it gives enormous power to the government, much more than any government ought to have. And the government therefore tends to become autocratic, as in Stalin’s USSR.
This means that person a loss of freedom for people at large, because they can’t just do what they think they ought to be doing without asking permission first. And although I think the word freedom has been very, very seriously abused, which we won’t discuss here, probably, but I’m sure we’d agree. I mean, Donald Trump, or Al Capone would say, Look, we know we are free. Far as they’re concerned, it means we have carte blanche to do what we like, kill people, et cetera. Well, that’s not what freedom ought to mean. So, but freedom also means something good, it’s the road to personal fulfilment, etc, individuals need it. And anything that threatens freedom ought to be looked at. Not necessarily banned, but should be at least be explored. And a centralised economy compromises personal freedom, and also therefore stifles individual initiative, which means that you know, these all these inventors who sit in their garages as they come up with revolutionary ideas, which is where most big ideas do start actually. Not with Microsoft and all that, but with people doing their own thing. That is stifled, because you have to refer everything to the government. And this kind of centralised economy tends to be autocratic. It is, I think, a great shame – I’m sure you’ll agree with me – that this kind of autographic centralised economy is associated in many people’s minds, including politicians’ minds, with the name of Karl Marx, which is a shame. Because as Terry Eagleton says, he being not a bad scholar of commerce of Marxism, Marx himself was a Democrat. He would not have sanctioned his family, I mean he would have hated Stalin, I’m quite sure. And it is the case that all great thinkers tend to be seriously misrepresented by their most zealous supporters. So that Marx was seriously misrepresented by Marxists; Adam Smith has been seriously misrepresented by the neoliberals; Jesus Christ seriously best represented by people who call themselves Christians; and indeed, Mohammed seriously misrepresented by many people who call themselves Muslims. That’s just a sad case. The point is, though that to look at and perceive socialism as an economic model based on the centralised economy, which is how a lot of people do conceive it to be, is a serious misrepresentation. And in reality, I suggest socialism is primarily a matter of morality. It’s about people living together, etc, etc. And the founder of Britain’s Labour Party, or is generally credited with founding Britain’s Labour Party, was Atlantic shear a coal miner, as opposed to a Welsh coal miner, called Kier Hardy. And at the beginning of the 20th century, I think in 1907, he published a book, From Serfdom to Socialism, in which he says, I claim for socialism, that it is the embodiment of Christianity in our industrial system. Thereby, the point is that he’s talking about the morality of Christianity, as represented in the Sermon on the Mount you know, to love your neighbour and all that. Love your enemy. It’s actually not part of the Sermon on the Mount – just in there. But we all know, I think, intuitively what Christian morality stands for, and he’s the embodiment of it. In this multicultural age, of course, one shouldn’t be talking specifically about Christianity. Because, you know, the central idea of compassion, which is in Christianity, or love, as the Christians call it, is bound to all the great religions. And Mohammed, for example, every chapter bar one, I think, of the Quran begins with an appeal to the Compassionate One. And the point is that all the great religions share this central core morality. So he could, in a modern age have said, I see it as the embodiment of the core morality of all the great religions. But you know, this was 1907.
Although socialism shouldn’t be seen as an economic move, primarily as an economic movement, nevertheless, I’m sure we can all agree that in making serious change in society, the economy is crucial. We’ve got to get it – it’s the economy that really sort of drives the whole thing, so we’ve got to get the economy right. And what I want to say is, what the question I think we should be asking is, what kind of economy would in fact enable us to produce convivial societies, personal fulfilment, and look after the biosphere? What does that economy look like?
Ian Rappel: In relation to ideas of socialism, then Colin, I think I have a couple of questions for you. The first is, because you mentioned a series of people who, whose ideas of, you know, came through whatever crises were going on in society at the time to try and promote better ideas. So that was Jesus, Muhammad, Marx, those sort of people, that moments of history they are in crisis – they’re bringing forward new ideas to address these crises, and then thought those ideas are sort of landing in the mix, and the tensions are being pulled from one to another. So is it the case that those ideas, and you talk about the kind of moral implications of those ideas, is it the case that they quite often get kidnapped? By, if you like, the establishment of the time even as they find favour with the masses trying to make the world better?
Colin Tudge: I think that’s certainly a good way to put it, yes. An example would be the American Christian right. I mean, the are neoliberal to a man and woman. They believe in personal wealth, competition to get the greatest possible market share. All those things. Great big house, swimming pool at the back, jacuzzies coming out their ears; all that stuff, and yet they claim to be ardent Christians. And at the same time, they want to declare war on anybody who isn’t an ardent Christian. Jesus would have hated it. It’s just an expropriation of a great idea for nefarious, self-centred purpose. Awful. And it happens with every body of that stature or comparable stature, including Marx and including Adam Smith.
Ian Rappel: So it means that there’s a legitimacy. I mean, that’s what I’m driving at, I suppose, is there’s a legitimacy to look at a concept like socialism again.
Colin Tudge: Oh, definitely
Ian Rappel: And not have it sort of thrown crudely into the dustbin of history purely because it was contorted by various historical examples. But actually, if at its core it’s about democratic expression and equity and equality and those sorts of things, then there’s a relevance to using the term, especially around the area of farming and how we basically feed ourselves, isn’t there? We want to talk next, Colin, about the economy. What’s the task, the economy?
Colin Tudge: Well, as I said, the task of the whole infrastructure in theory is to help us to translate our aspirations into reality, actuality; in other words, to reach the goal, which I’ve defined many times. And of the three components of the infrastructure, you could say the economy is absolutely the crucial thing. Your economy is, it is about how we all interact. It’s in a sense, it’s a kind of a version of ecological transition. And of course, the two words – economy, ecology – have the same root. Given that its job is to help us translate the aspirations into actuality, you could say this is a really a very noble ambition, of economy; of the economy and of economists. But in practice – of course, in practice, not necessarily in theory – in practice, the economy is played out as what one might say, a game of money. Game, not in the privileged sense, but in the game theory sense of talking about interaction, transaction, etc. So the task, therefore, for economists, and for the economy, is to devise a game of money that would help us to create convivial societies with personal fulfilment and a flourishing biosphere. I submit, however, that this is not how most economists see their task, and not how politicians see things. They tend to see if they see it as a game of money, but the general prevailing view is that the idea is to maximise the amount of money rather than to correct the societies that you could create. And so we need to look at the economy afresh from first principles, just as we need to look at everything from first principles, in the spirit of the Renaissance, the rebirth, and go right back to basics.
What I want to say, first of all, is that the nature of economics, like the nature of socialism, or like the nature of science, which we’ll come onto, or the nature of religion, which we’ll probably talk about as well, has been horribly misconstrued. I mean, most people don’t really know what it is or what it should be trying to do, etc, etc. One of the fundamental faults that has run right through forever, really, probably since the 18th century at least, is to treat economics as a science, and also to suppose that science represents the royal road to truth. And therefore, the people who are economists tend to be treated as if they, you know, they really have got the word. They are gurus, or they are the Messiah. And they’re a sort of zealot followers of people like Adam Smith, like Karl Marx, or like the Chicago economist, Milton Friedman, who is the principal architect of neoliberalism, to treat them as if they really were, as it were, saviours, not just gurus, but as messiahs. And if you follow their word, you’ll be okay. Now, in fact, both Adam Smith and Marx, I think, were fundamentally modest. Not necessarily in what they wrote and did, but in their own intellect, in their selves. I don’t think either of them, like Darwin, actually believe that they’d got the last word. They were just trying to say this is a serious contribution. I think it’s possible that Milton Friedman might have thought he had the last word, but I don’t know about that.
Anyway, the point is this idea that economics is a science, and science is the royal road to truth, is wrong on both counts. We’ll talk about the second count in the next session, whether science really is the royal road to truth. But on the first point, it is clear that economics cannot be a bona fide new science in the way that biology aspires to be or in the way that physics almost certainly is. As a Cambridge economist called Joan Robinson – a lot of most important economists incidentally have been women, even though it’s largely a man’s domain – Joan Robinson, who was at Cambridge died in 1983, she said, “All along, economics has been striving to escape from sentiment, and to win for itself the status of science. But, lacking the experimental method, economists are not strictly enough compelled to reduce metaphysical concepts to falsifiable terms and cannot compel each other to agree on what has been falsified. So economics limps along with one foot in untested hypotheses, and the other in untestable slogans.” Rather good, that. Quite long winded, but rather good. Of course, you could make economics look like a science by putting lots of maths with it, and graphs and sticking it in a textbook – looks like a physics textbook – but it isn’t. It hasn’t got the same route of the testable hypothesis. And Joan Robinson said, rather good, “I never learned mathematics, so I had to think.” Not bad.
Anyway, the idea that economics can be a science, and indeed is a science has led many economists to seek to do as scientists, particularly as physicists do, which is just reduce the complexities of the world, to simple ideas, simple statements. And then to express those ideas in mathematical formulae, which they felt can’t possibly be wrong, as in E=MC2, or as in hypothetical grand unified theory, which they’re still trying to track down. And I’d say that what actually happens is that instead of coming up with an equivalent, E=MC2, what they come up with is a dogma, or ideology – a statement that says this is how the world is, and here’s how it ought to be. And I would say, one, a prime example of such an ideology is the neoliberals idea that we should leave everything to the market. This becomes more as a religious belief. It should leave the market alone. And economists have a terrible tendency, not the very greats actually, but many of them have a terrible tendency to think of themselves as gurus. I mean, ‘we have got the answer’; they give that impression. And John Maynard Keynes, no less, in the 1930s sort of observed this happening and thought it was deeply pernicious that economists should be given the status. And he said, if economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that will be splendid. And I think it would be splendid. And another, I’d say great economist of more recent times, John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian, who died in 2006, said – he was talking about a pragmatic economy that just does a job; there isn’t a general ideology behind it, it just does the job – and he said, “I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I’m for that. Where the government is necessary, I’m for that. I’m deeply suspicious of somebody who says, I’m in favour of privatisation, or I’m deeply in favour of public ownership. I’m in favour of whatever works in this particular case.” And I think that’s, broadly speaking, pretty well spot on. So what I’m suggesting is that we need an economy which is conceived as not as an ideology, but as a practical mechanism or set of mechanisms, albeit, with what should be a noble purpose; i.e., creating this convivial society. If it’s a simple pragmatic device or series of devices, it’s bound to be complex, and therefore to look messy. It won’t have the simplicity of leaving it to the market, or E=MC2.
Ian Rappel: So could you say what your version of green economic democracy is then?
Colin Tudge: Absolutely. We start off with four basic premises; not part of the thing itself, but the basic ideas on which the whole thing is based. And first of all, I suggest no one should have less than is needed to live with dignity, or to achieve fulfilment. Now in this country, as we well know, millions of people are well below what is needed to live with dignity. So they either heat their houses or they feed their kids, or they go to the food bank, etc, etc. That’s not dignity. And neither can you achieve fulfilment if you spend all your time wondering where the next meal is coming from. So it’s a disgrace, actually. And this idea that the country is too poor to support so many people is, of course, absolute rubbish. It’s a rich country, loads of money sloshing about. I know, this is a simple point. But the simple truth is that at the moment, 10% of the richest people own as much as the bottom 50%. I’d like to suggest that if you took away half the wealth of the 10% and spread it among the bottom 50%, the rich would still be much richer than most of us could dream of. But the income of the other, of the bottom 50% could be raised by 50%. I think the arithmetic works. As the nurses currently are asking for 20%, well spread the money around 50%. And they wouldn’t need to go on strike, etc, etc, etc. Anyway, that’s one point.
And no one should have – yes, point two – no one should have so much wealth that they have so much power that goes with it, and indeed have the power to interfere with everybody else’s lives. And I think about this on the last occasion, I went to the Mediterranean. We went to a nice hole in Mallorca, and all the harbours, which hitherto have been full of local fishing boats, were now full of these billionaire – nevermind millionaire – billionaire yachts. Built like warships; they’re horrible things. But basically just floating bars at the very least. What’s it all about? I mean, that’s filthy money, huge money, being used to push aside a whole way of life, etc. That shouldn’t, as it were, be allowed. I’ve got a lovely quote from Pope Gregory, but haven’t got it here, seventh century. Gregory the First, saying exactly this, you know, it’s a shocking thing that the rich are so rich, and thereby are depriving the best of us or the poor, over unreasonable livelihood. And that’s the world we’re living in.
And the third thing then, which follows from the second thing, is that it isn’t just absolute wealth that matters. Actually, it’s equality that matters. And there have been various studies done, notably, republished in a book called The Spirit Level, by a couple of people whose names have gone right out of my head, but it’s called The Spirit Level, which simply points out that in societies that are very seriously unequal, the rich are also badly off psychologically. People are much happier in societies that are more egalitarian, that’s simply a case. And yeah, so if you’re nice and feel comfortable in a nice place, let’s just say Copenhagen off the top of one’s head, you’re better being comfortably off in Copenhagen than you are being filthy rich in Patagonia, with a hacienda and some big dogs and a couple of pistoleros to keep the peasants at bay. Anyway.
And the last thing is the fourth basic principle: we have to take care of the natural world or the biosphere. And we have to have, underlying everything, it should be this sense of oneness with the natural world. Now these are the sort of basic rules, basic premises, on which green economic democracy is based. But it also has a number of components – as I said, it’s complex – which I should run through quickly.
The first is that, okay, you’ve got some kind of private enterprise – doesn’t have to be a private enterprise – we’ve got some kind of enterprise. All enterprises, I’m suggesting, should be conceived as social enterprises. In other words, they’re not just there to make money. They’re there also specifically to enhance human wellbeing and/or to enhance the wellbeing of the natural world.
Secondly, we have this thing, the idea has been around for many, many years of the mixed economy, as espoused by Clive Evan. And normally there’s thought of as being, on the one hand, public ownership, which tends to mean government ownership, and private ownership. Well, recently, people have come up with the idea of the tripartite mixed economy, as I call it. I got this idea from a chap called Martin Large, who’s based at Stroud, wrote a book called Common Wealth, two words. Anyway, the tripartite mixed economy says that you need a mixture of public ownership by government ownership, private ownership, and community ownership. And the community ownership is the one that’s gone missing. And yet, as Martin suggests, that community ownership should be seen as the most important component. And it’s wonderful what you can do with community ownership, community owned farms, community owned markets. I mean, that, you know, you’ve got democratic control, theoretically, but you haven’t got a quasi-tyrannical control by the oligarchy, so, you know, we should work on this.
The next thing, the idea of ethical investment has been around for a long time. But it tends to mean something rather negative; i.e., not investing in things that you don’t like, like tobacco, or arms, or that sort of thing. But positive investment is one step on from ethical investment. And that says, You should only invest your money in things which you really think are genuinely good. So you might invest in small farms, small markets, or whatever. Lots of different charities, I would say, though they don’t pay dividends, so it’s not an investment. That, so positive investment, I say is the third component.
The fourth, universal basic income (UBI). Everybody, according to UBI, every citizen of a given country should be given a minimum wage, enough just to live on. Now, if you’re – well, if most people I think, and especially if you’re a Tory – think that UBI is a terrible idea. Because we’re giving people with something for nothing. The fact that the people who object are getting a hell of a lot for nothing, doesn’t seem to occur to them. But they don’t like the idea of people getting something for nothing. And they also, because they have a very low opinion of human nature, take the view that if most of us were given enough to live on as a matter of course, then we would simply stop working, because we all hate work, don’t we? And we’re all lazy. And we’re all feckless. And we all just want to sit around and get drunk. So that is the kind of pessimistic view of UBI. In fact, it has been tried in lots of societies, including, I think, Cherokee societies in North America. And it has the exact opposite effect, as anybody who actually believes in human nature might have supposed. Once you’ve got rid of the burden of just staying alive, then you can start to be creative and do good things, which is what most people in fact choose to do. And the societies in which UBI has been tried, you get much higher employment, actually. You get much more coming out of it; much higher level of contentment, and so on. And of course, the rich receive the UBI, just as much as the poor, but they can be taxed heavily. So they give it all back. But it’s a very, very good idea, which needs to be looked at and is condemned on sort of spurious moralistic grounds, which really are spurious.
And the fifth idea, which I’m rather fond of, is that we should have a minimalist economy. At the moment, the whole economy is based on the idea that we should maximise wealth, because wealth is what makes us happy. And all that stuff. The minimalist economy says instead of trying to see how much stuff we could produce, and how much we can own, let’s ask what is the least we really need to live a good life and go for that. I think a sort of symbol of this and expression of this is the idea of maximum sustainable yield. And which you know, the fisheries operate on the basis that you put as many cod out of the North Sea, or the Atlantic, as you can get your nets to, until the point where the cods are obviously dying out. And this is a sort of economic model of how you control the ecosystem. And of course, blue whales and a number of other whales were brought right to the brink of extinction in the 1950s and onwards, because of this mentality, maximum sustainable yield. Except in those days, people didn’t even talk about sustainable. They just wanted to get as many as possible. If you look at some, at least, traditional societies, they don’t say what is the maximum we can get out of the natural world. They asked, what is the minimum we need in order to keep going to live a reasonable life? And that’s the mentality we ought to apply. And all of us, I mean, I think I’m living extravagantly, you know? A couple of rooms, a bedroom, got some stuff. But I’m aware that I could make do with half the stuff if the economy was different. If it was actually possible in our society to live on very little, I’d be happy to do so. But the whole society, whole economy, is setup, so that you can’t survive at all, unless you’re quite well off. Isn’t that true? And it’s absolutely ludicrous. Yeah, well, I’ll leave it there.
Ian Rappel: Your ideas…
Colin Tudge: Oh, sorry, one last thing, can I? The sixth component of the green economic democracy, as far as I’m concerned, is the idea of the circular economy. Not only should everything be renewable, or everything be recycled insofar as possible. But you should build machines in such a way that the components that are going to last a long time, can be rescued and used again and again and again. And there are components of, probably of motorcars, that could last 100 years, if they were made in a way that you could get them out again, and then get them out when the cars scrapped, and use them again. And in fact, of course, I think it was Henry Ford, who invented the idea of planned obsolescence so that you make machines and everything else, houses, in a way that you know, they’ve got a limited life, so that you can renew them. So as you refresh the economy, or, of course, taking resources out of the natural world. But we need to make the circular economy and the reusing economy really work. Those are the components of green economic democracy, as I see it.
Ian Rappel: Well, it’s a it’s a lovely idea, and it connects to our earlier discussion about socialism and meeting needs and equality and those sorts of things. And inputs the ecology into it. It reminds me of a statement by Raymond Williams, when he was writing about nature. He said, you know, it would be a good idea to bring the economy and nature closer together. There’s a kind of debate going on at the moment, where a lot of mainstream economists are arguing that they’re doing that through a process of assigning monetary value to nature. And the presumption is through concepts like natural capital and through mechanisms like biodiversity and carbon offsetting, they can place nature within the economy, such that it gains the value that it needs and the traction it needs within normal economics, and doesn’t get destroyed but actually gets built back up. That’s a kind of a very, I mean, it’s very market orientated approach. Does that sit with green economic democracy? Or do you think there’s tensions there?
Colin Tudge: There might be some potential in an ad hoc sort of way. But as a general approach, I find it ghastly, frankly. Because basically, it says, nothing has value, except insofar as it can be ascribed a monetary value. And we can fit that within the neoliberal economy, because we all compete for maximum wealth. It happens to be the case that the wealth is assessed to some extent, in terms of, you know, ecological advantage. But the values are all wrong. I mean, as we will discuss in the next session, and we have already touched on, nature should be valued, as it were, in its own right. And more than that, we should see ourselves as being very much a part of it. The principle of oneness and the intrinsic value of our fellow creatures, does not square with the idea that you give them all a cash value, and conserve them insofar as they give us a payoff. We need to conserve creatures that give us no payoff at all, in fact might even harm us, in the short term materially. It’s the wrong mindset.
Ian Rappel: So green economic democracy then isn’t just a simple application of economics to both democracy and ecology. It’s much more nuanced than that. It’s much more radical.
Colin Tudge: More radical, certainly. It has to be more deeply rooted. And as we’ll argue in the next session, the deepest roots of all big ideas are in the end metaphysical, and the fact that metaphysical has sort of gone missing means that the sort of standard mindset is incapable of getting to grips with the things that really matter.
Ian Rappel: Thank you, Colin.