So what are the implications for knowledge and its acquisition that are relevant to the political economy we build?
What we know
If what we think we know is wrong we better start looking at what we do know.
- Co-operation and collaboration; We can now show that the Social-Darwinist cloak so often used to prop up the status quo (that competition is the way of evolution) is in tatters academically to such an extent that we can reasonably assert that the emperor has no clothes. We need this knowledge to become widespread, to become common knowledge. It is necessary for a mindset change to combat the toleration of corporate marauding (including and not limited to wholesale environmental degradation and hostile leveraged takeovers).
- Decision making; We know that groups are better at decision making, that experts can suffer blind spots and hubris. We know that the way things get better is through continual improvement and spreading best practice and learning, but we persist with 5 year election cycles. We remove the ability for services to improve based on experience by setting up outsourcing with simplistic targets and contract compliance. Feedback just takes too long, accountability is unclear. Difficult things are treated even more badly, anything difficult gets booted into the long grass - accountability for Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough is nearly a generation late, many of the responsible are dead like the victims. The list of enquiries goes on and on and when they do report (having look at thing long and thoroughly) the government then picks and choses which bit to implement.
- Human improvement; We have lost our idealism about the prospects of a better society but not only is cooperation and altruism natural, the brain continues to have plasticity, we can continue to learn and change. Alongside this we also know the ways to bring out the best in people - this is built on participation and co-operation. Our politics being combative, traducing and rejoicing in all dirty tricks (short of violence) reinforces exactly the wrong behaviours as well as showing those who preach cooperation to be tribal hypocrites. How to get the best out of people is well known in business and pervades change management literature.
This means the politicians who advocate cooperation and collaboration have to start practicing it else be shown up as hypocritical humbugs, not to mention the small fact that they undermine the case for cooperation and collaboration in the first place. Since party politics and our form of representative democracy is designed to be competitive it cannot deliver and therefore we need to alter it. I will describe at length what the alternative involves (Part 2 Review, Vision) and I deal explicitly with objections based on realpolitik (Part 3 Consider, On Power) and getting that change to start from where we are now (Part 4 Consider, On Change).
The process by which the acquisition of knowledge takes place is precious. We have to be able to withstand a number of trends that put commercial interests before societal ones
- Ownership; we need to rebuff the idea that data and information can be owned simply by being collected. The knowledge that can be inferred from the data collected has public implications; it becomes a source of power (to manipulate) that is inimical to democracy, it cannot be held accountable if it is hidden away to secure competitive advantage. The current use of terms and conditions is a fig leaf because the way approval is obtained amounts, at the very least to sharp practice.
- Access; we need to insist on open access to all data and information that is produced at public expense i.e. if it was created with our taxes we should not let it be appropriated. This implies that data, information and knowledge from publicly funded research wether in universities or private hands should be freely available. People in general, not just academics, need to be able to build on each others work. Progress is only made by building on what has gone before. Keeping data secret means that contributions to the sum of knowledge are based on financial clout and/or allegiance and not on academic ability and/or the desire to add to the common good.
- Accountability; When data, information and knowledge is used to justify, develop, and or provide public services it should be freely available – at least to the users of those services. This is needed to avoid the situation that nanny knows best, and enable people to participate rather than being the passive recipients of what is good for them. When services are outsourced it soon becomes the case that the company refers people to the council and the council refers people to the company - a significant decline in accountability as well as a dispiriting experience. Despite supplier lists and contract management there is not enough protection in the process to ensure good governance and avoid sweet heart deals and cronyism, some firms are favoured by virtue of size and market dominance or long standing relationships. A lot of central government provision went to two very large firms Capita and Interserve both have gone into receivership.
Both money and information, when accumulated can be translated into power and must therefore be defused. Quite simply democracy means that all citizens can have a say. Buying a say (or extra says, or just more face time with politicians) is undemocratic. Using privileged information to manipulate and influence others is undemocratic. Since our current form of representative democracy delivers these priveliges to small powerful groups, provides an elected dictatorship (that is a government majority with minority public support) to deliver what is purchased and limits citizens ability to challenge by voting once in five years we can hardly describe it as functional. Representative democracy the way we experience it - we are not well represented and it is not very democratic - it needs to change.