The Moral Matrix and 2017

Jonathan Haidt in this 2008 talk explores the constraints and tensions in the moral psychology of left and right. He uses the context of the American political system and discusses primary moral principles, which for us in the UK, can be seen as a proxy equating to Labour and Conservative ideologies.

Given the tensions within the Labour Party at present, given the divisions created by the referendum on Europe last year, there is a merit in revisiting these earlier Haidt arguments, touching as he does on freedom, rights, power and dissent.

You can see the full TED talk from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, below…

Source:

In the talk, leavened with an easy humour, it is easy to see identifiable Labour Party sterotypes, as well as those of the Tory persuasion. The left enjoy open-ness, change and commitment to the future well-being of others. Those of the right, in this model, cleave more strongly to notions of order, and acceptance of the suffering of some, to achieve their world vision.

Haidt’s arguments about the five principal moral values that determine our political allegiance do bear subtler fruit after reflection. However, there is a more complex truth illustrated at play within and relevant to the UK Left, I would argue.

There are certainly those of the left who are adherents of open-ness, change and collaborative development. The countervailing position, arguably, is reflected in the matter of the Labour Party rule book. My electronic copy runs to 110 pages. It is hard to imagine a historically, long established political party, with a distinct and focused collective community mass-identity, that would need long debates about rule or process. Given the weight of history and experience that sits atop the shoulders of branch and national executive members.

However, it is also possible to see a ‘rightest’ version of the left, utilising the Haidtean moral psychology arguments. The press for deployment of rule in pursuit of rigid order, is also conflicted, in this model, by those who then seek to change the rule book. Not for pursuit of long term social and moral objectives, but in a short term attempt to secure self interested order as a group or societal norm.

Would it not be better to use moral psychology and the moral imperatives of the Left, socialism in my intellectual landscape, to develop thematic drivers of action which, in Haidt’s canon, would see an end to the ‘moral matrix of disputation’?

Yes, would be my answer. When even members of Momentum are being drawn into debate and argument about the rule book, it would seem, all would benefit from having a contextual list of moral activity, with a view to changing the long term political landscape of the social Left.

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Below are examples of how the ‘Moral Values Directorate‘ of a new Labour Party might look…there are many others, to be sure.

a. Social Business/Social Enterprise/Community Business

In England the depth and history of charitable endeavour runs deep. Why does the Party, most connected with the workers, not more forcefully and adroitly engage with business principles that can employ people, deliver companies with highly moral employment and marketing values, to change the topography of communities and regions.

Is it not possible that the Party could have national teams who foster branch engagement with social business solutions to local community problems? Not to the abandonment of working for votes and candidates, but as an exension, an additional part of the political armoury which would, in the long term, affect those moral value triggers of the electorate who do not currently vote for our party.

For Party members to actively engage and cultivate social business and community enterprise as aprt of their constituency armoury utilises member energy and experience, but over time, serves to illustrate the practical vaues of the Party to a much broader audience, in a newly relevant way.

b. Arts and culture

Performance, art and creative conceptualisation of problems can all be powerful adjuncts to a political allegiance or understanding. Younger members of the Party, wanting to become writers, creative workers or intellectuals should have, in a Moral Values Directorate, a process available, a ladder of opportunity which enables them to emerge as thinkers and doers, to the notice of their peers and local communities, which again can change the political landscape of branches and/or regions over time.

The Arts is just one segmental approach – creating new vertical communities of potential subscribers, followers and voters – in a way which drectly speaks to their interests, and salts political direction and thoughtful opinion into the lived experience of local politics.

The Arts can be a powerful enabler of personal development, cultural shift and redirection of loyalty, I would argue.

c. Values Rapid Response teams:

We now know, for example, that our Local Authorities are using legislation to eavesdrop and record the activities of the residents/electorate that they are responsible for. Where is the concerted effort to abolish such activity. If our freedoms are imperilled by those elected members who are there to represent us, why can we not have national teams who can support immediate, local action to such deployments when they become clear.

Here is just an example of how a vertical approach, this time by contentious theme, that could close the gap between distant elected members of the party and those who live in the communities they represent.

As an interested outsider, I am not aware of a groundswell of opinion or action, to protest in this way. Partly, this is about holding elected members to account in a very direct and solutions driven way, but also seizes the high ground for the Left, where to take action in defense of community is, importantly, to be seen to take action.

It is a thematic approach to political drive which can disrupt the’…maintain the status quo, despite the inequality inherent in such positions’, whilst making the moral values which the Left should, or could, hold most dear, radiantly clear.

You could also devise the same vertical model to confront the privatisation of education or the railway network, for example. Not in the usual overtly, partisan way, but devised campaigns that lead with the moral value, the community well-being arguments absolutely at the fore.

It can be done. I have heard railway men and women talk, at conferences, of the human value and social benefit of railways, for example. A discursive, collaborative display unknown to most politicians, voting for foreign ownership and private fiscal value without consequential thought, I would argue.

If ever history was on the side of the man or woman on the footplate, it is this conversation that would resonate with voters…if they, the voting population, could hear it in concord with a ‘moral value proposition’ that was relevant to their own experience and needs.

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Making moral psychology become part of the everyday political discourse of England, allowing the Left to jump out of the moral matrix we now find ourselves. Now that would be worth voting for in 2017.

We might even get a ‘Labour TEDTalk’ out of it?


This journal of comment and analysis is devised and published in the East of England...leaning to the left, thinking independently, arguing for humanity...

Editor: Tim Smith MA, FRSA

Now living in rural Suffolk, I have wondered all my adult life why ordinary people like me, would vote to make the policies of the self-interested Right ascendant? I now think, older as I am, that I have pursued entirely the wrong question, despite voting Labour my entire life. Why on earth cannot collaborative socialism make the Left successfully ascendant? This is the new quest.

Tim is a Partner at SmithMartin LLP - a Cambridge based social business working to create projects which tackle inequality.

Collective Conversations is a not for profit, publishing project - the views and interpretations expressed are solely those of the individual contributors to the work.

No endorsement of any party or person is sought or implied...

BHS – the Parliamentary Report

If you are in business, this BHS Parliamentary Report makes for a very depressing read. It combines a narrative of weak governance and the exercise of singular personal influence that is breathtaking.

bhsParliamentaryreport1016coverImage
Read the full report here…pdf version

The Committee make some sweeping assertions, however, about the nature of ‘business’ in the UK, which to this reader, do not perhaps reflect the true state of a wider ‘moral’ commercial landscape extant in the presently configured UK.

It gives little regard, I would argue, for the good work and innovative governance practice delivered by the social business market, the ethical investment marketplace and the community endeavour or social enterprise sectors.

In the UK good practice abounds, but it was not prowling the corridors of BHS at the appropriate time nor, allegedly, had the fearless support of a company management team that were vigorous and rigorous in pursuit of  customer care, employee development and growth and tilted all energy towards a cohort of pensioners, upon whose expertise and life work in the company, these missed opportunities were nurtured through time.

‘We chose to investigate BHS because it encapsulated many of our ongoing concerns about the regulatory and cultural framework in which business operates, including the ethics of business behaviour, the governance of private companies, the balance between risk and reward, mergers and acquisitions practices, the governance and regulation of workplace pension schemes, and the sustainability of defined benefit pensions…’

Source: First Report of the Work and Pensions
Committee and Fourth Report of the Business,
Innovation and Skills Committee of Session
2016–17 – BHS p.3  Accessed: 25.07.2016

This Parliamentary mission statement delineates old concerns and sources of tension for those of us, who are in or have been in, the Trade Union movement. The stated concerns of the Committee represent an amalgam of old arguments and fierce defensive stands for organised labour in the past. It, as a mantra, is not new.

The message about the inadvisability of exploitation is well developed on the left, what is new, perhaps, is the range of voices now expressing such concerns.

Like all large business, developed and managed through the conduit of manipulated private cash, the focus of the business, the report alleges, seemed to have been the enrichment of individual family members, with scant regard for re-investment in company infrastructure, technology and the long term welfare of company workers after retirement.

‘The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners. This is the unacceptable face of capitalism’.

Source: Source: First Report of the Work and Pensions
Committee and Fourth Report of the Business,
Innovation and Skills Committee of Session
2016–17 – BHS p.55  Accessed: 25.07.2016

It is the owners of the means of production who were to blame. Marx would have been proud.

What can be done?

  • Those on the left, of whatever shade or fervour, can become interested and active in the development of alternative business forms and modes of governance. Making the alternative ethical case from a political position of encouragement, not criticism. The beginning of transforming the ‘capital landscape’.
  • If the notion of nationalisation for large services and industries is unpalateable, then activists should embrace ‘The Collaborative Commons’, delivering social output and growth in common ownership with others. An old idea given new energy by entrepreneurs and academics recently in The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2015. See my review in another publication here.
  • In constituencies, where in my difficult experience, old rigid, command and control practices often continue to exist unfortunately, the energised left should help engage and deliver social business and community business enterprises as a driver of their activities. As cost control is different from rampant profiteering, so good governance and an ethical business position is the alternative face to big business, greed and consumer exploitation. It is not the abandonment of profit that should drive change, it is the added exercise of ethics that matter.
  • Make ethical business and social outcome part of the local and regional campaign activity across the UK, but particularly in rural areas, or those constituencies where blue pennants fly in bold profusion. This will not make an overnight change to voting habits, but members of the left, acitvely involved in new, ethical governance issues will slowly, over time change the perception and the voting record of communities. People will vote against deference and perceptions of ‘the local lord and lady’ know best, when there is a credible, articulate, practice based alternative available. Make social enterprise party praxis, then the communities we serve will too!
  • Work with regional Party machinery to make placing ethical business specialisms and social business governance knowledge on every LEP, school governing body or enterprise development project in every local authority. Make the voice of difference and ethical enterprise heard.
  • Make ethical business activity, the creation of community change through the prism of social responsibility, environmental sustainability and equality of opportunity and outcome the central plank of every Young Labour delivery, for example. Win the hearts and minds of the next generation of social business entrepreneurs, by harnessing their energy progressively, beginning now.

If you do this, then the next generation of entrepreneurs, social innovators and those who set out their stall to govern political parties will also give their vote to the Left. The world of business, forlornly outlined in this Parliamentary report, will have begun to systemically change from the roots up.

There is gargantuan range of research and thought abroad about social business, ethical entrepreneurship and business for good. From 80,000 Hours nurturing graduates to think of others to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, showing the world what business should not be.

Why can the Left not successfully harness it as a core principle?

See the full BHS Select Committee report here.

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This journal of comment and analysis is devised and published in the East of England...leaning to the left, thinking independently, arguing for humanity...

Editor: Tim Smith MA, FRSA

Now living in rural Suffolk, I have wondered all my adult life why ordinary people like me, would vote to make the policies of the self-interested Right ascendant? I now think, older as I am, that I have pursued entirely the wrong question, despite voting Labour my entire life. Why on earth cannot collaborative socialism make the Left successfully ascendant? This is the new quest.

Tim is a Partner at SmithMartin LLP - a Cambridge based social business working to create projects which tackle inequality.

Collective Conversations is a not for profit, publishing project - the views and interpretations expressed are solely those of the individual contributors to the work.

No endorsement of any party or person is sought or implied...

The Economic Case
for Strong Trade Unions

Hammering the foundations of prosperity...

CollCon page icon - imageThe New Economics Foundation (nef) and The University of Greenwich have recently published a new economic case for trade unions. Entitled Working for The Economy, it is a detailed and numerate assessment in the decline of trade unions over the twentieth century and the policy impacts that conflict has caused.

nefreportcoverPic
See a copy here…

The report also makes a strong case for their resurgence, arguing that as a ‘wage driven’ economy, the UK benefits from the rise in wages and conditions attributed to strong work place representation.

The report is keen to stress that, although wages and salaries are a cost to business, it is too simplistic to discount the purchasing power extended to workers through their ability to consume. ‘If wages fall as a share of income, it implies a shrinking market. The result is a drag on profiits and growth‘.

This is an important principal consideration. The idealogical defeat of collective bargaining and the suppression of wage costs by owners of capital, in itself, diminishes the very market they are attempting to exploit.

The detail below illustrates the fall of ‘wage share’ across Europe in the last fifty years…

wagesharedeclineImage

 

 

For every 1% reduction in the share of national income going to wages, UK national income – measured by GDP – is reduced by 0.13%, or £2.21bn at current values. Wage share has declined from its 1975 peak of 76% to an historic low of 67% today; this has had a direct impact on national income.

This governmental suppression of trade union activity has seen workforce membership decline from 49.9% in 1981 to 25% today.

The widely held notion that the UK is a profit driven economy, the report argues, is false. It is a wage driven economy and the death of collective bargaining and wider employee representation has increased inequality and staggered our national economy as a result.

The detail below illustrates the collapse of union membership…

peopleinunionsImage

 

The report looks at both the decline of trade union influence, ideologically diminished, against the introduction of new technology, for example. Interestingly nef argues that the much lauded technological revolution is a slighter figure than argued for by owners of capital and again echoes the decline of an empowered workforce as a deterrent effect on economic growth across Europe.

The logic is simple: wages and salaries have a dual role. As well as posing a cost to businesses, wages paid to labour also provide a market demand for output, hence higher consumption.

Put even more simply, the nef research looks at the economy in terms of Keynesian circular flow and argues that low vitality in trade unions reduces wages and brakes demand and therefore growth.

The argument in the report sparkles with clarity and is entirely in opposition to current mainstream economic thought.

…the ongoing bias of policy towards restricting trade union rights,at least partly motivated by the intention to deliver higher economic growth, is profoundly ill-conceived.

CollCon page icon  - imageYou can view, print or download a full copy of this report in pdf format here. We commend it to our readers.

Data illustrations: Drawn from the New Economics Foundation report.


This journal of comment and analysis is devised and published in the East of England...leaning to the left, thinking independently, arguing for humanity...

Editor: Tim Smith MA, FRSA

Now living in rural Suffolk, I have wondered all my adult life why ordinary people like me, would vote to make the policies of the self-interested Right ascendant? I now think, older as I am, that I have pursued entirely the wrong question, despite voting Labour my entire life. Why on earth cannot collaborative socialism make the Left successfully ascendant? This is the new quest.

Tim is a Partner at SmithMartin LLP - a Cambridge based social business working to create projects which tackle inequality.

Collective Conversations is a not for profit, publishing project - the views and interpretations expressed are solely those of the individual contributors to the work.

No endorsement of any party or person is sought or implied...