The left wants all citizens to be equally free and powerful, and as free and powerful as possible.
There are two different ways to make citizens more powerful:
Short Term Goals
Making citizens more powerful within today’s political economic system (Egalitarian Capitalism):This has characteristics such as: mainly user choices in public services as poorer citizens don’t have the time to partake in extensive participative processes such as co-ops and federations; a mixture of liberal (choice) and communitarian (local government) means to make public services more accountable and higher quality for citizens; a limited amount of participatory structures in public services due to time constraints on citizens also competing in the labour market; minimum wage and income (tax credits) and wealth (Child Trust Fund) redistribution.
Long Term Goals
Giving citizens more power over the political economic system (Democratic Republicanism): This would have characteristics such as: a shorter working week thus greater time for citizenship for all citizens; a larger gift and social economy; a smaller market economy; greater democratic structures in public services, the means of government and patterns of ownership; multi-layer democracy and co-ordination between devolved administrations; and greatly reduced wealth and income inequalities thus greater means for universal citizenship
Both of the above agendas should be pushed forward at the same time by the left. Egalitarian capitalism is a short term solution; democratic republicanism is a long term solution. Egalitarian capitalism can morph into democratic republicanism over time, if Left governments get elected and make the labour market more citizenship friendly and the democratic international/global unions regulate the global economy.
Our current political economy is already significantly both egalitarian capitalist and democratic republican, but it also significantly laissez-faire capitalist. Our current political economy can be made more egalitarian capitalist in the short term and more democratic republican in the long term.
Democratic republicanism has the potential to give citizens greater control over their lives than egalitarian capitalism, but the Left has to do everything possible to make citizens powerful in today’s capitalism whilst simultaneously building a democratic republican political economy for the future.
While egalitarian capitalism can make citizens more powerful than laissez-faire capitalism, only democratic republicanism can create a society that’s controlled by citizens alone, and not capitalists or state bureaucrats. Egalitarian capitalism may give choice in public services but the economy is still heavily controlled by capitalist producers, and politics is still heavily controlled by government bureaucrats.
If all state schools and federations of state schools had greater democratic structures then parents would have real power over their child’s education. But to participate in the democratic structures, all the parent’s would need time and resources, and for that we need to shift the economy from being a predominantly time constrained and non-egalitarian capitalist economy, to a less time constrained and more egalitarian economy, which we could call democratic republican.
Finally, building this economy will be very difficult at the scale of an individual nation state due to the competition for capital and labour between nation states. So the world’s nation states may need to be democratically governed at a global level ideally within a democratic global republic, turning nation states into regions of this democratic global republic and harmonizing currencies, taxes and labour rights.
Citizens don’t have the time or resources to participate in the management of government or the economy, due to the time constraints and vast inequalities of contemporary capitalism. Ways of making citizens more powerful within the current time constrained capitalism include introducing user choice into public services. Swedish free schools (alongside state schools) give parents more power over their child’s education without demanding that they forfeit their time and energy that they spend competing in the labour market. This is egalitarian capitalism in action.
The idea of user choice in public services is inspired by liberal thinking. However, income and wealth redistribution, which are fundamental components of egalitarian capitalism, are also components of democratic republicanism. Thus egalitarian capitalism will help to give citizens more energy and even time to participate in democratic processes, but not enough time and energy to participate to the extent to which society is entirely shaped by citizens, and not the market or the state.
The European Union is democratic republicanism in action as it gives citizens greater control over the global economy, from market regulations to green economic strategies. The European social chapter guarantees all citizens 4 weeks of paid holiday giving greater time for citizenship. The European working time directive bans working over 48 hours per week, guaranteeing more time for citizenship. This is democratic republicanism (or libertarian socialism) in action.
Citizens will be most powerful when they are free from the time constraints and inequalities of capitalism and thus free to co-operate with each other and be the key architects of the society and world in which they live.
Originally printed at Openleft.co.uk, click view for more information.