The need for mutuality in the economy and society in general

I see the French Left – irrespective of vision – has repeated the mistake that robbed Jospin of the chance to run for the Presidency in 2002, namely, failure to agree on a single standard-bearer, given that Mélenchon got 19.6% and Hamon got 6.3%,which combined would have put the single standard-bearer ahead of Macron. The Left fails more by strategic and tactical clumsiness and stupidity than by the failure to have a fleshed out stance – no one could accuse Mélenchon of lack of clarity.

However, there is a bigger question, which is about society having a choice between two visions.

Cameron’s adviser, and spinmeister, Philip Blond – deviser of the vacuous “Big Society” – is on record as saying that “the Banking crisis offers us a chance to sweep away the whole rotten arrangement of postwar politics”.

What this shows is that the Thatcherite and post-Thatcher Tories have reverted to their pre-WW2 mode of total opposition to the mutual society ushered in by Clement Atlee in 1945 – in the teeth of concerted opposition from pre-WW2 mode Tories and their voters – with the intention of sweeping away EVERYTHING that was built to improve the lives of the vast majority of Britons between 1945 and 1979.

If Thatcher could have (and plenty of the Cabinet Papers released in the last two years under the 30-year rule demonstrate the fact) she would have swept away the whole Atlee-arrangement in her first Administration, but she knew it would take a generation – at least – to inure people to her style of doing things, until it appeared “common sense”, while the Atlee-arrangement could be pictured as inefficient, unfair, and even rotten – because it was based on the “unfairness” of the rich having to support the poor, represented as the “hardworking” having to support the “lazy scroungers”.

What this actually was – and is – is a repudiation of the mutuality principle, whereby not only do the strong help the weak, but more importantly, there is both a sharing of burdens, and also a sharing of hope and success.

For the original, 19th century, mutual societies were such things as “burial clubs” and “building societies”, where everyone clubbed together to pay for X’s funeral, knowing when their turn came, the club would do the same for them, Equally, with a building society, X got his or her house built (building societies really DID build in the 19th century) on the understanding that he or she would help someone else get their house later on.

Without this mutuality principle, almost everyone would have had a pauper’s funeral in an unmarked grave, having spent their whole miserable lives in poor quality rented accommodation. It is deeply interesting the Paul Ryan, in attempting to steer Trump’s odious Trumpcare Bill through the House, actually described the mutuality principle – on which even the most capitalist versions of insurance are, of course, based, since insurance cannot otherwise work – as being unfair, showing an astonishing ignorance of this area of the finance industry.

Now the mutuality principle can be expressed in the phrase “I am my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper”, and it seems to me that the Labour Party needs to pick up on this idea, and frame this General Election not in terms of “Labour will do X, Y and Z better than/different from the Tories”, but instead as a stark choice between a society based on the mutuality principle + “I am my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper”, versus a Tory one of “dog eat dog”, and “you only get what you pay for” (all, including the hatred of Atlee’s “rotten” system, gloriously captured in Nicholas Ridley’s view on the Poll Tax: “The Duke will pay the same as the dustman. What could be fairer than that?”) which for the vast majority of people will be nothing, or even less than nothing, because it will come at a cost.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to be told to up his game by presenting this election as a stark choice between the mutuality principle = “I am my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper” versus “dog eat dog”+“you only get what you pay for”.

And I believe that IS the real choice. And I also believe that Corbyn has NOTHING to lose – given the dire polling data – from embracing a truly radical approach, even picking up on the view that he should promise to restore ALL the cuts made since May 2010, which can clearly be shown to have been at best counter-productive, and at worse seriously destructive.

Note: This was originally published on the Tax Research UK blog as a reply to this post: On the French election: why is it so hard to sell fraternite?


  1. Peter May -

    Much agree, too. Although John McDonnell has said Labour is in favour not of the right to buy but the right to own, which is the same line of country. But it’s been too low key -or perhaps it has just not been reported – and it is still probably more about owning where you work (as a coop) when it is put up for sale.
    Anyway I think the ‘mutuality principle’ is one hell of a slogan that would be easy to adopt.

  2. Andrew Dickie -

    Sean and Peter,

    Thank you for your responses. As regards the Professor Wren-Lewis piece, Sean – thanks for the reference.

    As regards John McDonnell’s line, Peter, well -it’s OK, but insufficient: the “mutuality principle” is of far wider, deeper and more thoroughgoing application. and now’s the time for boldness and vision.

    It’s not for nothing that Proverbs 29, v 18a says “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Andrew thanks, I only came across Wren-Lewis’s blog a few days ago, which is a shame as I wish I had seen it much earlier. I have added it to the “Useful Links” tab. There is a lot of really good stuff there; very topical and covers a lot of the themes I was hoping to explore over the coming months. One theme is “Why despite the fact that the Tory’s are demonstrably so macro-economically incompetent, is it that the General Public seems to believe the exact opposite?” His blog today is exactly on that theme and he used the term “mediamacro” to explore the difference between perception and reality:

  3. Grace Sutherland -

    It’s hard to think of a current or global problem at this time that doesn’t need more wisdom and yet we just haven’t developed the ability to cultivate it. There is a huge imbalance between our technological knowledge and our inner knowledge in modern life. We are wizards at things that don’t matter and truly terrible at things that do. You would think that it should be a global research priority-along with protecting the environment but its not. And yet we have an incredible reservoir of wisdom from the world’s religious and philosophical traditions from which to start.
    The search for our most genuine sense of self is often denigrated as narcissistic or selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that the better we know ourselves, our real selves, the better we can serve others.
    May I suggest that running alongside the politics on progressive pulse there might be room for a kind of toolkit of progressive practices for developing personal inner wisdom? I might be able to help with some of it if you felt it appropriate.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Hi Grace
      sorry for the delay. This is indeed an interesting idea. I have asked the editorial team and they are very positive. Will email tomorrow and we will try to work out how to move from idea into implementation. Great to have you on board!

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