Following discussions around the future of economics and politics in the UK at this year’s festival, we have published our second interview with FutureFest 2018 speaker Paul Mason.
On human rights of the younger generation: many people in their 20s are not happy that they soon may not be able to live, work or get educated in EU countries. Equally, many young people are concerned that they may never be able to buy their own houses. Do you think the future could be bleak for young people in the UK?
Since the crisis in 2008, it’s been clear that the next generations will not be as rich as we were. There is going to be low growth and the danger of stagnation. We’ve increased the total leverage in the world economy and we essentially have more debt for each dollar or euro worth of growth than we did before. That is what makes the next generations poorer than the post-war generations. But there is another strategic problem. The way money behaves today is a kind of signal of how we believe the future will pan out. We are borrowing something like 250 trillion dollars of debt in the entire world. That can only be paid back if growth is massively higher than before, but all the projections say it’s going to be lower than before. So, this is the strategic crunch point for modern capitalism.
But there is a hopeful message for the generation now in their 20s. I believe they’ll be living in an economy where wellbeing isn’t just measured by monetary growth and GDP by the time they’re in their forties. There will be relative freedom from the stresses and strains of climate change crisis. Goods and services will be traded outside the market- it’s not barter but it’s basically the provision of relatively abundant things by social mechanisms. Imagine the difference in lifestyle for the younger generation, if through taxation we provided everybody with a decent home, free transport, university level education and health care beyond acute care – that is, services like dentistry, physio, mental health and social care. That is possible even with the capitalism we have now, it would put more strain on the taxpayer, but it is achievable.
With the kind of transitional capitalism that I think we need to create to reach post-capitalism, we need to re-adjust what we believe to be well-being
I’m hopeful that when I look around, I see people valuing free time, experiences and cultural production and consumption far more than they did 20 years ago.
Since we’re thinking about the future, here are three quickfire questions around the future of the UK in five years’ time:
Will the UK be in the EU or not?
I think the EU will still be in a transitional arrangement with the UK in five years’ time. I think in ten years’ time the UK will be outside the EU but very close to it, mirroring most of its rules. As Ivan Rogers the former EU ambassador said, Europe is a regulatory superpower. We are on its doorstep and there’s nothing you can do about that. The concept of sailing away into the sunset is a pure right-wing fantasy. My big fear is that the population that have been sold this ridiculous dream will be very angry when they wake up. In business, there’s a saying, “learning by doing” - people will learn the extent of attachment they can achieve by leaving Europe.
Will the UK be in the European single market or not? In the customs union or not?
I think we’ll be very close to both. Probably in the customs union and mirroring the single market. I think this semi-detached relationship to the EU was inevitable, the EU needed to consolidate around the euro and greater shared sovereignty.
I campaigned for remaining on a very critical basis and I’m sorry I wasn’t more critical
If we re-ran this whole problem we probably shouldn’t have started with the referendum but with the Lisbon treaty. I covered it when it was signed, and Gordon Brown refused to turn up to it, he sent David Miliband instead. In hindsight, I’d have had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. For people like me who are critics of neo-liberalism, neo-liberal economic policies are now impossible to break from inside the Lisbon framework. I would have voted against the Lisbon treaty, I would have voted for us to re-open the discussion about state aid, competition and other issues. But that’s a “what if.”
Which party will be governing the UK?
My hunch is that it’ll be a de-facto coalition between Labour, the SNP and if they’re still in Parliament, the Green Party. Because even if Labour were to win an election, it would need a massive mandate to implement democratic change. We need to change the institutions of this country, we need to give Scotland the possibility of leaving if it wants to, we need to make significant changes to the fundamental unwritten constitution of the country. And you can’t do that as a single party, you need as wide a coalition of parties as possible.
You can watch Paul Mason's full talk from FutureFest here.