Philip Whiteley's Blog

May 12, 2011

RIP left and right

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:50 am

For more than 200 years, we have defined politics along a ‘left-right’ spectrum. Every comment you make is automatically placed somewhere within this two-dimensional perspective. The more strongly expressed opinions encourage a binary view of the world: if you criticise a ‘left’ view or institution, it’s assumed you must be supporting a ‘right’ one, and vice versa. This makes it difficult to contribute to a debate when you disagree with both!

I think this perspective often bears little relation to how societies and organisations actually work. I offer some examples:

  • In 2001, the investment bank Goldman Sachs (free-market and ‘right’) colluded with Greek socialist ministers (left) effectively to defraud future Greek taxpayers by shifting debt into the future and making it more expensive. Highlighted in the new book Greece’s Odious Debt.
  • When I visited the Cuban health service (left), I was impressed by some of their ground-breaking research on new treatments. The people involved reminded me of similar teams I had met at the US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer (right).
  • Similarly, the Sandinista women’s groups I visited in 1991 (left) had achieved remarkable results in education and health, but the best work was done in a voluntary manner, not by the state. I struggle to see the difference with social work by conservative Christian churches (right).
  • Labour MP Jon Cruddas is viewed as being on the ‘left’ of a centre-left party, but his religious faith, commitment to community and honest speaking has earned him praise by writers in the Daily Telegraph, seen as being on the ‘right’.

I would like to see politics defined according to questions such as quality of life, opportunities, and quality of organisational leadership – in both public and private sectors. What matters far more than the size of the state is its effectiveness. Is it big state and largely effective (Sweden, Switzerland); big state and dysfunctional (Greece) or somewhere in between (UK)?

So is it RIP, left and right? I’ll be expanding on this theme in the forthcoming book New Normal, Radical Shift, co-authored with Neela Bettridge of Article 13.

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