A Profound Misunderstanding by Tom Kilcourse
For three decades or more our politicians’ focus has been on what they call ‘the economy’. It became an obsession in the early eighties and has dominated our thinking ever since. Mistakenly, the term ‘economy’ has been seen as synonymous with ‘commercial’ and at times ‘financial’. Furthermore, this poorly understood concept has come to dominate our lives while other elements of our being have been subordinated and seen as relatively unimportant. It is not by accident that the globalisation of our economic activity has coincided with widespread derogation of national identity. We are ‘citizens of the world’, with all cultures being equally valid. The answer is now blowing in the wind.
Economics is merely one of three elements controlling our quality of life, the other two being politics and society. Change in any one element has implications in the other two, as is evident in the social and political changes that have followed from the globalisation of commerce. Attempts by some to emphasise their national identity has been widely derided, and even associated with fascism, while internationalism is seen as ‘liberal’. The flaw in this kind of thinking is the lack of any effective democratic government at the international level. Politics, despite all efforts to convince us otherwise, is national in nature. We in Britain elect a government for Britain, not for Bangladesh or Vietnam. While we can acknowledge that our national government can have compassionate concern for events elsewhere, it is elected by Britons to look after British interests and society.
Politicians in the West became convinced that the globalisation of commerce served the interests of western nations and anyone who thought otherwise lacked an understanding of economics. Slowly, and often surreptitiously, politics became subordinated to commerce to the point that democracy and national interest were significantly undermined. Politicians who attempted to promote social and domestic interests were identified as ‘socialists’, irrespective of their political party affiliation. Indeed, the concept of society was downgraded by many who preferred the notion of individualism, whereby the legitimacy of government was confined to defence, and possibly law and order. In every other sphere responsibility rested with the individual. Philosophically, this notion is a non-starter. Mankind, a physically weak species, came to dominate the animal kingdom everywhere on the planet by collective effort. In short, we are social creatures.
Over the decades, political and commercial interests merged, with the latter being invariably referred to as ‘economic’. Politicians were invited to the party, serving as non-executive directors, or attaching themselves to commercial organisations by other means, as ‘advisors’ perhaps. Senior politicians came to look forward to comfortable existence in a commercial setting should their political career be ended. Meanwhile, the social element of our being was continuously downgraded, and whole societies were either destroyed or significantly weakened. Protest was pointless, labelled as socialism or an ignorance of ‘economics’, that natural force reminiscent of the weather. Political complacency set in.
Ironically, those who accuse others of economic ignorance often reveal their own confusion of economics with accountancy. This emerges particularly in discussions on the infra-structure when it is suggested that every element must pay for itself. While accountants can legitimately argue such a case, it does not always make sense for an economist to do so. To the latter, it can make sense to run one part of the infrastructure, such as transport, at a loss if that leads to other benefits to the economy. So, a perfectly good economic case can be made for subsidising transport or housing because the economic benefits are positive elsewhere. That is not ‘socialism’, merely sensible economics.
I have expressed my disapproval of commercial globalisation many times, and have been reminded often of the numbers it has lifted out of poverty. However, the process has brought that about in the East while impoverishing many in the West. It should not come as a surprise to our politicians to hear that the European or American citizen who becomes unemployed in the process is not placated by knowledge that someone on the other side of the planet benefits financially from his or her dismissal. That is especially so when the westerner lives in an area where there is little chance of alternative employment, and knows that his or her job has been exported so that the poverty of the eastern replacement can be exploited.
For many years, since I was a student in the sixties, it has been evident to me that our well-being is governed by three equally important elements, Economics-Politics-Society. These are interconnected and equally important to us. Oddly, while our politicians have frequently justified their social or political activity, or lack of it, by reference to economic consequences, they have rarely shown awareness of the connection in reverse. Consequently, while I have believed for years that their economic process will eventually end in violence, they have completely failed to see that their neglect of social consequences would lead to political rebellion.
So, when we hear cries of dismay at the election of President Trump, or the rise of Marine Le Pen and her equivalent in other western countries, it is worth remembering that they have emerged because of neglect by conventional politicians. We may be witnessing the last attempt to replace the conventional lot by peaceful means.
Tom Kilcourse began working life as a manual worker in Manchester, where he had been raised by poor grandparents. He worked as a garage hand, a coal miner and a bus driver, before gaining a trade union scholarship to study at Ruskin College, Oxford. He later gained a State Scholarship to read economics at Hull University.
During his career in management development he was widely published in academic and management journals, spoke on management in America, Europe and the UK, and appeared in educational videos on management made for the BBC. He began writing short-stories in the 1970s and has been published in various literary magazines.
Since retiring, he has published two short-story collections, ‘The Human Circus’ and ‘More Short Stories’ and continues to be published in journals. He has also published four novels, ‘The Great Collapse’, ‘Who Killed Clarissa?’, ‘A Deadly Deception’, ‘A Phantom Madman’, and ‘The Great Collapse’, in which he weaves social commentary into mysteries. Also, he has published a short autobiography ‘It’s Only Me’ and a book on management development. Tom also writes essays on politics and economics.
© Tom Kilcourse