Happy New Year!
What a year 2019 turned out to be!
In the UK, after 10 years of austerity, we have a new government, most of whose members were described as, “extreme right-wing” by the former Conservative Chancellor, Philip Hammond. In the US, the president has been impeached, and the question of whether in practice he is, or is not, above the law remains to be settled. And around the world, the evidence of climate change is becoming ever clearer, as is the inadequacy of most governments’ responses.
In most countries, we should be planning a fundamental rethink of the last 40 years of policy-making. And instead, in many, there is a risk of doubling down on the idea that markets will solve everything.
In some ways, it looks hopeless. And yet, not so long ago, the world faced greater problems and resolved them successfully. At the end of the Second World War, most developed economies had become war economies – even those parts of their industries which had not been destroyed during the conflict, had been converted to military purposes. Most working people were, in some way or other, engaged in the war effort. Many governments faced levels of debt far higher than those we worry about today. It might have been natural to foresee an economic collapse with skyrocketing unemployment and poverty far worse than had been experienced during the Great Depression.
But that did not happen. Governments had the courage and the optimism to build a better world. In the UK, for example, despite government debt which had peaked at over 250% of GDP and an economy more than half of which was devoted to the war effort, the post-war government successfully created the Welfare State and the NHS, and ushered in the Golden Age of Capitalism, a period of high economic growth and low unemployment, the benefits of which were felt by almost the entire population.
Economically, the challenges we face today are relatively tractable. Our problem is that we do not see, or cannot believe, that we can successfully address them.
Furthermore, in both the UK and the US, the population has become divided. In the US, the focal issue is the President himself. Roughly half the population believes that he should be removed from office, while the other half sees him as a saviour struggling valiantly against the forces of resistance to make America great again. In this environment, important issues which should be settled by looking at the facts, such as climate change, have become party-political.
In the UK, Brexit is such an issue. The UK will leave the EU. But there is no more clarity about the nature of that departure than there was on the day after the referendum. We do not know whether, when the transition period ends, our manufacturers will have continued access to the single market, or whether they will be trading on World Trade Organisation terms. Like climate change, the facts are critically important in assessing the options open to us, but the issue has become so politicised – even among the general public – that rational discussion has become difficult.
For the 99% Organisation, our challenge has always been twofold: first, to spread the word so that enough people understand the risks of mass impoverishment and the possibilities of ending it; and second, to apply sufficient pressure to our legislators that they take adequate steps to end and reverse the process. And this remains the challenge – but now we must recognise that our audience is split: roughly half will be receptive to facts and evidence; and roughly half, even though they may themselves be victims of mass impoverishment, may not. We are already well set up to communicate with the first half of our audience; and over time we will have to build the skills to communicate with the second half. My short-term resolution is to try not to push the second half away by being irritable or patronising; my long-term resolution is to learn to connect.
Thanks to your help, enthusiasm and commitment, the 99% Organisation has achieved a great deal in the second half of 2019. It is more important than ever that we maintain our momentum in 2020. There is everything to play for, and skilful communication will be the key to success. I would like to thank you all for your contribution so far and ask you to redouble your efforts in the New Year. It is your energy, skills and creativity which will make the 99% Organisation a powerful force for good in 2020 and beyond.
With my very best wishes to you all, and your families in 2020. Let us make it a really good year!
Mark E Thomas