Putting it into practice

On Sunday’s discussion of the far left, I talked of my ideals as a socialist, and how these contrast with Communist ideology. Today I shall consider how this develops into policy. The Government of Venezuela under Hugo Chavez is a case in point.

Under Chavez, the state has rolled out social investment programmes, free healthcare, upgraded schools and more, funded by oil revenues (London buses largely run on fuel imported from them, after a deal between Chavez himself and the Mayor). The radical administration has had to endure a hostile world press, but some of the criticism is justified. The nationalisation of a number of sectors of the economy, for example, has damaged foreign investment, because TNCs know that their factories will probably be seized as soon as they open. Additionally, queues outside supermarkets have become commonplace after they became a state monopoly. Often, public ownership of some sectors of the economy can be beneficial, but it doesn’t have any chance of working under amateurish governance as we’ve seen here (besides, who ever could have seen a state monopoly of supermarkets as a good idea?). But another thing that Chavez has going for him is that he is a democrat, which has previously been a rarity over there. Remember when the US backed coup was launched to reverse his economic reforms? The people were having none of it, and within days Chavez was back in office. He knows full well that democratic principles can work against him as well as for him.

His ideals are sound ones: he understands social responsibility and he understands aspiration. He has achieved so much improving the prospects of the children of the slums (and the slums are a whole new story). I can easily say that, overall, Chavez’s 14 years in office have been beneficial. But while it is hugely entertaining to watch multinational firms being on the receiving end of the blackmail and bullying for once, the government is guilty of economic mismanagement. To conclude, its heart is in the right place, but it has been crude in implementing its principles.

Ultimately, commercial interests should be secondary to those of the working public, for the material needs of the majority should, on the whole, take precedence over that of the privelleged few.

That is what I said yesterday when explaining my own ideals as a socialist. I’ve been asked to explain what that means in practical terms. Of course, that is a matter of debate in left-wing circles, and I’d like to think that it is a common starting point from which various policies are drawn up.

But my own ideas on this matter can be summarised thus: as the role of commercial enterprise is to sell a product, service or image, and in so doing create a profit drawn from the consumers and paid to a small elite of shareholders, the long-term effect of them is to concentrate wealth in the hands of the “1%”. The tax system can be used to correct this, but we should also look to fix it at source. In some markets, we should introduce different models of ownership in order to limit the exploitation of vital services for private profit. In other words, the popular need for, say, affordable energy, should take precedence over the size of Centrica’s dividend, and a co-operative or not for profit ownership model would be more appropriate than capitalist control. So in a few areas, the profit motive should be curtailed, and in others we should expect firms to exhibit genuine social responsibly.

It’s not Chavez economics, but I reckon it would go a lot further towards creating a market that works for all.