my name is Tiny Tom and I am writing with my wish list for 2017 (thank you for my Action Man last year). It grieves me to say that things have seriously deteriorated since your last visit. My list, therefore, may seem a little excessive but it is only because you are the last unifying figure left on the face of the earth. Like some beardy avuncular dictator, your image is everywhere, and everyone sings your praises in shamefully manipulative and exploitative pop songs. I am therefore entreating you to come and help us because our politicians are failing us miserably. We urgently need you (and your army of elves if need be) to come and thoroughly shake up humanity. If it helps, think of our failed societies as failed little snow globes.
The first order of business is to transform the language through, with, by and in which politics is conducted and which has led to it becoming a meaningless spectacle that repeatedly promises change but continuously delivers worse of the same.
You will have to dissolve the ineffectual and largely notional dichotomy of left vs. right (and, by extension, the numerous gradations of compromise within its exhausted spectral parameters). The left is spiritually dead, the right is sick in the head. Their policies and language overlap, their politics both echo with the same desperate peals of alarmism. But most worryingly, both cravenly cave into the demands of the major banks, financial institutions and corporations, and the lobbyists and government-appointed advisors acting on their behalf. Real power no longer lies with governments but with an obscure array of interests that can best be described as either “the market” or “the global economy”. This can no longer stand. These interests represent a negligible percentage of the population as a whole. They create systematic poverty, inequality and disregard for human well-being. They regard people as natural resources, like oil, wood or shale, to be exploited until they are surplus to requirements. These interests have, over the last forty years, strategically usurped key positions in academia (especially in the field of economics), government advisory bodies, and international financial organisations. They have embedded their interests in treaties and law. They have legitimized them through their powerful media assets and supposedly objective think tanks that they anonymously fund. They have successfully rendered the left as historically irrelevant, financially irresponsible and emotionally weak. Worse, they have resorted to the scoundrel’s last resort: patriotism (i.e. xenophobia). Class differences are as pronounced as ever but the poor have no political language to fight with because they are now trapped in the cyclical world of lifestyles and choices.
Santa, it is a pitiful state of affairs. It is a system that is geared towards wealth creation for the already extremely wealthy, who use every trick in the voluminous book to avoid taxation and minimize their costs. Many of these companies receive government subsidies and tax breaks. The state, meanwhile, offsets its loss of revenue by penalizing the poor. It dismantles a welfare state that was centuries in the making. It forces people to take demeaning, dead-end, subsistence employment through language that would make the Victorians blush. It is a system that thrives on chaos, fear and our basest incarnations. It is more rigged than a Las Vegas casino yet it pretends that anyone can “make it” if only they make the right choices. It has transformed politics into bluster, histrionics and playground cruelty. It has dissolved the slow but steady march of history into a swirling vortex of conflicting interests.
As you know, Santa, I am no economist or lawyer but I have a few ideas where you can begin. The political transformation back to reality will require forceful legislation, a sea change in attitudes (there are countless precedents for this) and a new generation of young, enthusiastic, principled and engaged politicians who realise the current system is so flawed and unsustainable that it can only end in one (or all) of the dystopias so thoughtfully depicted for us in the burgeoning cannon.
Funding for political campaigns will be provided by the state and fixed at a reasonable rate. The media, both state and private, will grant all parties a limited amount of airtime and advertising space for free. This will be a first step towards creating a level playing field for candidates. Lobbying will be banned outright. This will relieve pressure on politicians and civil servants to fulfil obligations accrued through private donations.
Advertising standards will be aggressively regulated during campaigns and referenda. Claims made by politicians will be assessed by a panel of experts, itself appointed by a special committee of independent experts or other independent source. The panel’s findings will be released over the course of an election or referendum campaign. All major media outlets will be obliged to report their findings in equal proportion.
Once tainted financing is taken out of the electoral system, and once the excessive powers of a fiercely bipartisan media are curtailed, the old dichotomy will start to fragment into irrelevance or reform into different movements free of loaded language and historical baggage. The media may even scrape back some of its lost legitimacy.
We have to disengage from existing trade agreements and revise trade and libel law (I have McDonald’s in mind) and intellectual property law (I have the patenting of genes in mind). Everyone will scream this is impossible: it is not.
We have to stop using GDP as the main measure of economic well-being. Economic growth clearly does not portend that all is well. There are plenty of viable alternatives out there if they can just get some traction in the media and gain some political capital. We have an epidemic in the West of: rage, self-hatred, prescription drug abuse, alcohol abuse, insomnia, mental illness, obesity, chronic confusion, acute disillusionment. All this under the auspices of GDP as the driving force of government policy. I will not even mention the environmental devastation this race to the bottom has caused.
It is too late to avert climate change but immediate action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions by the worst polluters. In wartime, governments have taken over parts of the economy and it seemed perfectly natural since it was the state waging the war (unlike the private sector-fought wars of late). Climate change is potentially far deadlier and costlier than any war humanity has ever faced. A five-year plan (I know, I know) should be drawn up to vastly increase and improve public transport systems, convert to renewable energy (this can be a temporary fix for the mass employment that will ensue from these changes), and reduce wastage. Meat should be heavily taxed so that it again becomes the delicacy it once was (for special occasions, on Sundays, etc.). Chicken and fish-farmed fish can temporarily mollify people’s beef with the lack of meat. Most significantly, we will have to shift our entire way of life away from a consumer-based economy.
Reduce the work day to 6 hours. Governments should invest heavily in a range of leisure, education, sports, training and social centres. A generation of people will have to be shown where to put their fishlike attention span and to wean them off their addiction to shopping and the fleeting little fix of happiness it gives them. Libraries should receive substantial funding. A viable minimum wage, or even a universal income, should be introduced. Taxation will have to be increased. This is not the tragedy or economic catastrophe that the media will make it out to be. It is for the common good and the long-term habitability of our planet. Incidentally, the planned exploration and colonisation of Mars should be temporarily delayed so we can focus all our attention on earth and stop treating our planet like some kind of celestial Titanic.
An international fund should be set up for the interim conservation of endangered species and ecosystems. Additional funds, equipment and personnel should be allocated to existing nature reserves.
By taking oil out of the global equation, the Middle East will become a political irrelevancy. Hopefully Arab resentment towards the West and the Islamic extremism that feeds off it will fade. The region, along with all its petty tribal differences and shifting allegiances, can fight it out among itself. The West should temporarily seal its borders. It has to realign itself, reinvent itself, reinvigorate itself before it can cope with any more demographic upheaval. No existing immigrants, however, shall be deported or forcibly relocated. Climate change is likely to cause immigration on a scale of biblical proportions. The world has to be prepared to deal with that in a humane and decisive way. Perhaps America and Canada can lease a vast swathe of their skeletally populated northern territories as a relocation settlement.
By taking gas out of the global economy, Russia will again fade into the lumbering, self-hating giant it always was. It can be left in peace to in-fight. Hopefully it won’t be able to afford to wage a misinformation war with the world or bully its smaller neighbours for the sake of feeling better about itself.
That’s about it for this year Santa! Please don’t think me greedy for writing such a long want list but at least it’s not all for me. Because you will have your work cut out, I have left you 100ml of vodka on the table together with a jar of gherkins. I wish you a very happy Christmas. I, for one, intend to eat and drink myself to oblivion, à la La Grande Bouffe, in the knowledge that next year may well be worse than this nightmare of an annus.