I have been posting my review of Unlocking Liberalism in instalments. Below is the full version with added observations.
Firstly I should record what an excellent initiative this is and how impressive are the collection of authors that Liberal Futures have gathered.
Secondly given how impressive the book is and how professionally it has been produced and the quality of the writing it is a mystery to me why the group did not invest a fraction of the time and effort they had put in to launch the publication. At no cost they could have had a website /blog to stimulate the discussion. Working with partners they could have had a launch at Glasgow, Liberator or SLF would have been obvious collaborators. And they could have also published online-not necessarily the whole book but releasing one or two of the essays as 'teasers' would have worked and I suspect more than paid for itself in increased sales. None of that should detract from the positive things about this project.
In the published Liberator review I did not have the space to explore how those authentic alternative liberal ideas could be developed. I have long been concerned that we have concentrated too much on redressing poverty and insecurity by handing out doles rather than addressing the underlying problem- the misdistribution of ownership. To significant extent since Paddy stepped down as Leader these ideas has lost out to the assertive and well funded policy coup led by what is popularly, if not accurately, known as the Orange Bookers.
Despite the indifference of our party to effectively pursuing Ownership for All there has been some academic interest. Stuart White has summed up the contribution that could be made to mainstream politics by that alternative liberal vision in a recent article . The ideas are further fleshed out in the free ebook 'Democratic Wealth' and readers may find chapter 10 of particular interest.
As a Young Liberal 40 plus years ago I was used to hearing Richard Wainwright tell Liberal Assemblies that the end objective of our economic/industrial policy was that labour should hire capital. Paddy in his book Citizen Britain took up that idea writing that 'in some cases, the present situation will be reversed…with workers employing capital and even hiring their own management’
White points out in his article that 'Liberals argued that capital’s authority in the firm ought to be limited by workers’ rights to consultation and participation in structures of co-determination. The right of capital to control the firm is not absolute. The right to invest in a firm is conditional, on this view, on accepting workers’ rights to share in authority at various levels of decision-making. Participation rights here can include representation on works’ councils and on firms’ governing bodies. The rationale for this was again in part about alleged work relations and productivity, but also about inherent justice. In the words of one Liberal party report from the 1960s' ( which I am guessing was Wainwright's one and only published pamphlet):
Just as there is a difference between a citizen and a mere subject, so there is a difference between an employee who is simply hired by his company and one who shares, officially and formally, in the ultimate power to determine the company’s aims and call its directors to account.
At every Glee Club we sing The Land, the essence of the Georgist plan is explained by White as
'One strand in the liberal philosophical tradition, for example, argues that natural resources such as land are fundamentally the property of all. If individuals wish to use those resources for private purposes, they may do this. But they must pay the community for the privilege. Taxes, e.g., a land value tax, can be used to ‘charge’ natural resource users for their appropriation of part of the commons. The funds can then be recycled to citizens as a basic income, reflecting their right to an equal share of the underlying resources.'
I was critical of Stephen William's idea of handing out bank shares when the state owned banks are sold off. My preference was for them to be established as mutual. The experience of privatisations and de mutualisation of Building Societies is that it does nothing redistribute ownership in the long term. In pretty short order the shares were hovered up by the usual suspects. Professor Meades ideas od establishing a citizen share as an option is still very attractive. We have bank privatisation, fracking licences and who knows what else coming along. There is now some practical experience with these ideas from Alaska where the citizen dividend is working
The writers of the Unlocking Liberalism identified the big issue of social inequality. We now need to come up with a plan that permanently redresses the unbalanced way that ownership is understood in Britain. This is the big debate we have not had. The ideas of Professor Meade and other Liberal like Elliot Dodds have much to teach us.
Order Unlocking Liberalism, cheques for £11 (incl p&p) made payable to Liberal Futures 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, EH51 0EL