Saturday, December 10, 2022

Gordon Brown's federalist proposal

In his article “Think our plan to fix British politics is a pipe dream? Think again”in The Guardian, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown links very well two lines of reform that are usually presented as separate: economic policy reform and institutional governance reform. Instead, he rightly argues that the two must go together. Policy reforms to have a more inclusive society will not be successful unless government is adapted to a multi-level interconnected democracy where tax and regulatory competition is stopped. And abstract institutional reforms will not be supported by the voting public, unless they translate into improvements in the standards of living.

Here are some paragraphs from his article: “we need to change who governs but we also need to change the way we are governed. And to bridge the gap between the Britain we are and the Britain that we can become, the Commission on the UK’s Future, which reported to Keir Starmer this week, is demanding a new economic and political settlement to ditch a century of centralisation, end the over-concentration of power in Westminster and call time on the long era of “the man in Whitehall knows best”.

“... a tale as old as time that constitutional commissions take minutes and waste years, only to see their reports written off within seconds of publication. With good reason. They usually fixate on abstract, out-of-touch, legalistic remedies, at the expense of addressing the everyday lives and challenges faced by ordinary citizens fed up with poor government.”

“... in order to build economic prosperity across the United Kingdom and alleviate fast-rising poverty, political reform is a necessity. Any economic plan will fail unless the right powers are in the right places in the hands of the right people. The goal of an irreversible transfer of wealth, income and opportunity to working families across the United Kingdom is dependent upon the irreversible transfer of political power closer to the people. The two go together.”

“... doubling growth, increasing productivity and creating the new well-paid jobs of the future will not come from trying to win a race to the bottom to attract low-paying jobs from abroad”

“The mayors and local authority economic partnerships will oversee local bus and train services, as well as planning and housing. We will revamp the British Business Bank with a mandate to end the long-term equity shortage faced by growing firms in the regions, and we propose to seek joint ventures with the European Investment Bank, among a series of measures, to invest in local infrastructure.”

“... we must also prevent the wrong powers from being hoarded in the wrong places. Because past devolution programmes have left the centre unreformed, a new Britain needs a new Westminster and a new Whitehall.” The federalist plans are therefore complemented with proposals to clean up politics, to make government more transparent and less corrupt.

Although Gordon Brown proposals have the UK in mind, his arguments are of more general interest. The nation state and the emergence of market capitalism were not two orthogonal developments. The Westfalian nation-state as we know it today was one of the institutional innovations that emerged to consolidate markets and provide the large scale law and order aparatus that could sustain the Industrial Revolution.

Similarly, today we need an organization of democratic sovereignty that is adapted to and inter-dependent economy in a globalized world in the twenty-first century.

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