Devolution and Mutualism: A Solution for Left-Behinds?

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I love this article. Which, once again, and not surprisingly, I found in The [London and Manchester] Guardian. It absolutely gets to the heart of what I’ve been saying the whole time Trump was a Presidential Candidate, and before that, for some ten years in my uber-liberal hometown of Carrboro/Chapel Hill, NC: We really do need to get out of our progressive basements, and start talking to rural and small town America, if we (Democrats) want to start winning elections again in the US.

And you know? The irony is that you don’t have to get on a plane to find these types of communities. In Carrboro/Chapel Hill, NC you just have to hop in the car and drive ten miles in any direction. I suspect the same is true of most uber-liberal communities around the US.

Trump USA is not (completely) populated by racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic monsters. By and large, it is populated by small town folk, who just don’t want to and can’t understand ‘cosmopolitan’ America.

For them, actually for all of us, the biggest danger to social cohesion is, and has been for many years now, too much reliance by ‘professional’ politicians on social engineering projects. Of both the right and the left.

Too many career policymakers, whether elected or salaried, whose sole experience of managing human activity in society is drawn from clever journals, books and white papers. Too much emphasis on issues, not enough on human consequence.

I know a bit about this first hand. In my youth, back in the UK in the Eighties, when my politics were of the right rather than the center-left of today, I was one of the children of Maggie Thatcher’s Revolution.

We lived and breathed laissez-faire. Which means exactly what it says. Stand back, let rip and don’t pay too much attention to the detail. Just follow the line on the graph.

I won’t pretend I was at the center of anyone’s power circle. But I knew one or two people. Sat on one or two committees. Knew some of the inside story. And more often than not, the public story (a la The Hillary) was not the private reality.

For example, we were not about bringing freedom of movement and upward mobility to the British work force. We were about smashing trade unions. But when we smashed the unions, because it was a good social engineering objective, too few of us (myself included) failed (or refused) to notice we were wiping out whole communities in the North of England.

I spent the General Election of 1979, when Margaret Thatcher ascended to her position as British Prime Minister, politicking in a grim northern Parliamentary constituency. I know what happened in the coal-mining communities in the area. I mean, I know now. I have never visited since. I have read. With horror. But I read. Because, on a personal level, I owe that much.

I will never, ever again be so casual about supporting a political program because it sounds like a good social engineering objective. Not without asking furiously and in detail for a discussion with communities about the human consequences.

And that is what this past Presidential Election was all about. Not white this. Or supremacist that. Left-behind whatever. It was about communities of people being forgotten as ‘clever’ Washington-type folk casually pursued nameless, faceless, heartless social engineering programs over the past few decades.

And not always just globalist neo-this and neo-that agendas. For sure, as this article makes clear, the neo-liberal, neo-con globalist emphasis on free movement of people, goods, services and capital has eviscerated communities on the human level, as mills are shut, coal mines are closed, WalMarts take over with their cheap Chinese goods. But this happens on the micro level, too.

The last great (hilarious) wheeze in uber-liberal Carrboro was when its Board of Aldermen, made up, bless their hearts, not of small businessmen and women, farmers and shopfloor workers, but folks with interesting titles like ‘Health Services Researcher.’ These good people decided it would be a blessed idea if we banned all drive-through services in the town, in order to reduce carbon emissions, as cars idled in said drive-throughs.

I pause as I pick myself up off the floor, and wipe away the tears of mirth. Bless their West Wing-watching hearts.

The proposed town ordinance was, I believe, finally abandoned, when one or two local worthies pointed out that many of those using drive-throughs were, for example, disabled folks, young mothers with children or shopfloor workers running late for their shift. The last was my input. Which I offered as I might, none too diplomatically, have opined that those on the Board likely did not know this, since not a one of them would ever have been seen anywhere near an eatery that didn’t feature Merlot being served in glass-encased outside dining areas.

I repeat, this is the essence of why Trump won this past Presidential Election.

I have been asked in some of the still progressing discussion threads on my Facebook Page how I would combat this dereliction, this abandonment of small town America. And I use the term ‘small town’ loosely. I actually mean, small community. A suburb of a steel town in Ohio, an inner city abandoned by the middle class, these too are ‘small towns.’

My answer is still a swirl of ideas I’ve gathered over most of my life. The lessons learned from my Thatcher years. From my time in Carrboro. Writing on my various blogs (geoffgilson.blogspot.com). Advocating for workers’ rights in a leading grocery co-op for ten years (weaverstreetgeoff.blogspot.com). Suggesting ways to brook the divide between police and community (citizenpolicing.com). And so on.

I use this article and this note as a starting point, a contribution only. I’m not saying I disagree with the general thrust of neo-liberal capitalism. In my own opinion, it is better than socialism or communism. But I think on both the macro and the micro level, it is time to hit the pause button for a while.

When we have a community which depends on a local textile mill, or a coalmine, or a car factory. And the normal ‘rules’ of laissez-faire would close it. Maybe draw breath. The human reaction should be to take it a bit more slowly.

Maybe say (and when I say ‘say,’ I understand the reaction of, er, who says, how, when, are we really talking this level of ‘micro,’ community by community? Well, yes, but bear with me, I come back to process in a moment or two). Maybe say, huh, community cohesion suggests, let’s keep this economic entity together; let’s find a way.

Alright, process for a moment. Tangential thought. After Obama was first elected, I tried to advocate for a nationwide program of Presidential community organizers (several thousand) to act as go-betweens, liaising between the funds of the 2009 economic stimulus and the fragile economic and social grassroots networks that communities had evolved over many decades.

I was concerned on the one had that funds did not go unspent, on the other that the existence of this power funding would not upset delicate local frameworks, and on yet another hand that grassroots lessons would find their way up such a network of community organizers, to inform future policy-making.

The idea got nowhere. But maybe it could still be applicable now.

Back to the micro examples. So, let’s say we have a small community, where a textile mill is due to be shut, because global neo-liberal forces make it obvious that the textile product can’t compete with product from Bangladesh, Vietnam or China.

Look, I want to help the families on $1 an hour in Pakistan. One day. But right now, I want to help the left-behinds in this country. And I’m not making this up. I lived in a small town in North Georgia, where the local economy depended on two local textile mills. Until both were shut down in the Nineties and the Noughts.

So. In my vision, the Presidential community organizer gingerly, deferentially steps in. Says, hey folks, why not sit down with the community bank, come up with a business plan. The Department of ??? will pay for the plan. Work out what it might look like to have the community take over the mill. Make it a co-op, maybe. ??? from the Department of ??? can offer advice. We know it’s not totally economically viable. The Department of ??? will underwrite a community bank loan. 80% gets taxpayer-funded; 20% you pay off. Jobs are saved. The community learns firsthand about the world of economics. It’s not long-term. It’s stopgap. But it’s no worse than the FDR programs. It buys time. It invests. It teaches. It holds together.

This is what has been missing from the machinations of social engineering of the right and the left in the past thirty years. Hands on, human consequence, micro consideration of the effect of national and state policies. Maybe not this exact idea. But something like this.

And you can translate this into education, healthcare, welfare, poverty programs (focusonpoverty.blogspot.com). There is a leading thinker within the British Conservative Party (yes, I know, it blows the mind), who believes that we should devolve as much power and decision-making as possible to communities, and allow them to operate economically, and to provide education, healthcare and social services, on mutualist models. Where communities decide how they want to work, make money, educate, provide healthcare and safety nets, and the funding (both private and public) then follows their decisions.

How to pay for all of this ‘community investment’? If the idea gains traction, and you want the notion to be budget neutral, then there is going to have to be re-prioritization of national and state funding.

Within the context of a new Democratic Populism, a concept I’ve been expounding elsewhere, the obvious prime candidate for fund provision is cuts in defense spending. I’m not talking about defense of the immediate realm. I am talking about closing a vast number of the 1,000 military bases the US has worldwide. Reducing the umpteen navies we have floating around the globe’s oceans. And cutting back on rapid deployment forces and the air force. We do not need to be policing the world to keep our nation safe. We just don’t.

But, here’s another thought. In this new age of devolution, direct democracy, social media, internet activism and petitions. Why not find a way, at both the national and state level, to ask the public to make choices? To list their priorities. One on one. Or by list. We have so many taxpayer dollars. List the following, in order of priority. Or, do you want housing for the homeless, or Smokey the Bear? Why not adapt a web-site like PeopleCount.org – er, I express a slight interest; I had discussions with the founder of the web-site, Rand Strauss, for a few months over this past summer.

How does this all fit within that context of a wider, national Democratic Populism? In short, less defense spending, brakes on US participation in further globalism (i.e. free movement of capital, people, goods and services – at least for a while), maybe some tariffs, maybe some regulation of exporting jobs and services, retooling Obama’s economic stimulus (to be honest, my perception is that much of the proposed funding and the associated programming has simply not yet been utilized), funding for community investment. That’s a start.

I know that the long-term restructuring of American society, in order to allow the left-behinds to catch up, also requires consideration of education, healthcare and the like. But much like Bill Clinton, I still think the primary emphasis should be economic (‘It’s The Economy, Stupid!’). And economic at the micro, the community level, supported by funding and programming at the state and national level.

This one post, flowing from this one article, does not provide all the answers. But is it a valid contribution to a starting point?

[Once again, Facebook commentary to be found here.]

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