Just read an article in Overland by Nina Power about the state of the left in modern politics. She claims that the left has lost it’s way and is losing the battle against the right with all manner of social welfare programs under attack and no great visions for the future.
Putting aside for now my serious doubts about the validity of the left/right dichotomy as a description of modern politics, I agree in a sense that the left has lost its’ way but I think the reason is totally opposite to what Nina Power asserts. I tend to agree with Clive Hamilton that the left has lost its’ way because it has achieved most of the old left wing aims. While poverty has not been eliminated and working people do still struggle, the working poor of the first half of the 20th century have all but disappeared. We have income support for all people not working (insufficient though it is) and we have universal health care (once dentistry is added this will be complete). Sure these things aren’t perfect and they are under constant attack but I think it’s a great exaggeration to suggest those attacks are succeeding.
So if I’m correct and the left has lost its way because most of the old labour left goals have been achieved, what’s next? I think the reorientation has to be about promoting actual wellbeing versus economic prosperity. There has been an assumption that the latter brings about the former – and to some extent that is true. However, there is no clear linear relationship. Increasing material wellbeing dramatically improves all kinds of measures of self-reported wellbeing for the very poor but the relationship is a lot more complex for wealthy countries.
Rather than focus on material prosperity under the assumption that it brings about genuine increases in wellbeing we should cut out the middle man and focus on promoting wellbeing itself. Now all we have to do is work out what wellbeing is and how to measure it. Stay tuned.
PS. Almost every sentence of this post is plagued by controversy. For example: