As most of us despair the deceit, wilful blindness, self-centred arrogance and corruption of many politicians and leaders in all of our countries, I wondered how do we find a new way to reconfigure the process, create a genuinely new framework for rethinking our societies? We’ve had capitalism, centred on the power of money and markets. We’ve had communism, centred on making everyone equal. We’ve had socialism, centred on protecting the weak. We’ve had dictatorships, centred on a few powerful people making decisions for the rest of us. We’ve had democracy, centred on equal rights to speak and vote. We’ve had religion, centred on the basis of blind faith in the mystical. We’ve had royalty, centred on the power of a specified family.
All of these have their weaknesses, as we are too painfully aware. I propose a new political philosophy of ‘peoplism”. Peoplism focuses a government on what people actually need. Let me explain how it would reframe our priorities and decisionmaking.
The Concept of Peoplism: Economies are for People
There is much discussion every day about ‘the economy’. Usually this means the dollar value of financial transactions in an economy. The point of ‘the economy’ is to be better off than before. But who or what should be ‘better off’? Clearly the answer should be ‘the people’ or ‘people’ should be better off. (Currently it is really about organisations or governments being ‘better off’.)
Who are ‘The People’?
Economies are for the people, not for organisations, not for governments. By ‘the people’, I mean those people currently living, or entitled to live in a particular place. I’ll use ‘country’ as our definition of ‘place’ here, as major decisions are national these days. ‘The people’ means as many of the current population as possible. Clearly, under any system, some people do better than others. Peoplism aims for most people to be better off most of the time.
‘The people’ also means everyone from babies just born to old people about to die. Economies should benefit all people, not just the working segment, investors, land owners or some other segment. This is important, because decisionmaking power is not evenly distributed. Babies and very old (and other groups of) people don’t have power, so decisionmakers have to consider their needs (and how they might be ‘better off’) when they make decisions. That’s part of what leadership is about.
To demonstrate the concept, we can think of the needs of people in broad chronological age groups – babies, children, young adults, mature adults, older able people and old aged people. What might the needs of these groups of people be, that we should be working on and improving?
What do Different Groups of People Need?
Babies (say 0-2yo) need good medical and general health systems. They also need supportive family-like structures to look after them until they grow into functioning children.
Children (say 3-12yo) need supportive structures too, to help them grow into independent people, able to look after themselves, if necessary. They need people looking after them at ‘home’ who are skilled and knowledgeable about good child-raising practices and who practise these. To learn, they need good educators, teachers, coaches, trainers who work with different parts of their bodies and minds to develop them to their potential, without inducing events that scar them for life.
Young adults (say 13-21yo) have similar needs, but are now capable of making independent decisions about most of their own wants and desires, so their needs are more for access to good information and role models as well as educators and supportive family-like structures. Becoming more independent, they need society rules about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Some of this is legal and sanctioning, but mostly it is about providing good behavioural consequences at an ethical and cultural level. The less reliance placed on legal enforcement systems, the better off the society is likely to be.
Mature adults (say 22-60yo) are the mainstay of the economic and social wellbeing of the economy. These people need worthwhile jobs providing sufficient money for them to be able to live independent lives with limited recourse to the society. In return, the society needs these people to provide as much as possible of the goods and services which the people generally need, as this is the group in the society who are fit, able, skilled and have the energy and motivation to do the jobs and grow themselves. (Where a society has a surplus of goods and services which the rest of the world values, it may decide to export them, enabling the society to have the resources to import other goods and services. Where goods and services cannot be provided or only at exhorbitant prices, a society may decide to import them.)
Mature adults need places to live in, access to communities and facilities so they can have enjoyable leisure activities, can happily mate or play sexually and many will want to have and raise children. They need the ability to change jobs if their own job becomes obsolete or they no longer have the skills for it. They need an ability to purchase the goods and services they personally desire, which are not detrimental to the society generally or specifically. They need the ability to drop out at their own expense or retrain. They need the ability to resolve problems between themselves and others and organisations. And some systems are needed to ensure that generally acceptable rules are followed and can be enforced, in a short time with minimum cost. Ideally everyone would act with common sense. A more practical approach would be that rules are minimised and common sense is applied in the interpretation and application of the rules.
Older able people (let’s say 60-80+yo) are no longer working fulltime or at all. However they have experience, active minds and skills that the society can use. They should be able to work if they can or not, if they don’t want to. To the extent that they don’t they will want to enjoy their leisure, which might be active or passive.
Older, aged people (let’s say 80+yo) need the society to provide facilities and services to support them, because they increasingly can’t look after themselves, but they need to be as independent as possible for as long as possible. They need carers, a supportive medical and health system, a strong social welfare system and, ideally a strong local community that engages with them.
Peoplism – What’s Different?
Ho hum, you might say. You would be totally wrong. This is not how the ‘economy’ or governments operate. What’s different?
First, the focus on people emphasises the importance of a strong jobs economy focussed on jobs for the current people providing goods and services for the benefit of the current set of people. To do this, governments have to seek out people’s needs and seek to provide them via the types of jobs, products and services supported. Employed people doing worthwhile jobs have more self-esteem, dignity and independence than those reliant on others.
Second, the main jobs desired are likely to be in the areas of medical, health, education, personal services, basic goods and services with ‘better off’ outcomes for the people, community-oriented services and facilities, local facilities. For instance, gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, high-sugar, high-salt products, highly processed foods which are poor for the physical and mental health of a society should be discouraged (through high taxation, not banning). Car transport (roads) is less important if facilities and jobs are local. Public transport is good for engaging societies and is much more economical, so it would be encouraged and valued.
Third, whole areas of government – defence particularly, police, security, legal services, taxation, corporation-focussed activities – are not critical for peoplism. Ideally, especially for an isolated country like Australia, defence spending should be very low. In practice, we should defend our borders, but we have no reason for the current population to have a military presence anywhere else. Police and legal should be minimised. Policing depends on people, education, cultural norms. Policing should be to protect people, not to harass people. Security is necessary but should be focussed on encouraging appropriate community behaviour, not enforcing legalistic rules. The legal system should be as free of lawyers as possible. It should be focussed on justice for people (the spirit of the law, not black letter law, which can never be 100% coverage of situations), not how to find a legal loophole. It should be quick and cheap.
Taxation should be simple and focussed on being effective and efficient. Corporations and richer people should be the main payers. Royalties paid on minerals taken out of the ground forever should be significant. Taxes on visitors for the privilege of enjoying our wonderful society should be significant. Socially bad products and services should be heavily taxed to reduce consumption and reduce consequent societal costs.
Social services spending should be supportive for those in need, but peoplism has an underlying mutual responsibility concept: we’ll support you, but you have a responsibility to support yourself as much as possible. By all means don’t work or support the society if you wish, but don’t then ask for anything from the society, if that is your position. Borders certainly need to be protected.
Immigration isn’t mentioned. Peoplism is about the existing people in the country. If those people want to allow other people to come into their country – out of good will, empathy, humanitarianism, economic logic – then let them come. If they don’t want immigration, they have the right to say no. Let the people decide.
How do we Vote for Peoplism?
Those in power in whatever country you are in (except perhaps Scandinavian countries) are probably opposed to large swathes of Peoplism, because their own power base is not represented. Powerful, large organisations, lobby groups, existing politicians unwilling to change, are in the way. Peoplism requires people power. Bernie Sanders showed how people power could be marshalled.
There are many examples of groups rapidly emerging in different countries with particular ideologies who become popular for awhile. What’s difficult is to maintain a philosophy which is only partial (eg anti-immigration, independence movements, or favouring one religious group over another). But there’s enough in ‘peoplism’ to unite large swathes of people and to have them continue to work together, as the philosophical basis is broad enough and covers all types of people, not just a particular group or a particular value system. We are all people. We are not all investors, capitalists, royalists.
But that won’t be enough. Leaders are needed. A whole swag of policies would need to be developed sufficiently, and articulated and explained to educate people to their value to the whole society. A group would need to be formed and the group would have to survive internal machinations and power politics to focus on the philosophy. And the group would have to be voted in to power. Increasingly, as politics fragments in the face of non-leadership, lack of vision, lack of policy, corruption and deceit, such a group might well get elected and perhaps get the balance of power to start with.
But even if not, peoplism is a philosophy to consider when critiquing existing policies from whomever. ‘ Is this good for the people?’ It’s a good question. We need peoplism. Can you help?