An image of people building a zero-carbon house using the WikiHouse system

Progress, Again.

  1. Create a market economy where there is enough for everyone
  • Build new, transparent, rules-based tax infrastructure to close-down the tax gap (the amount of tax that is lost to tax evasion or avoidance) which is estimated to be around £90bn per year (or £1.7bn per week). Not only would this mean that everyone has to pay their stated fair share of tax, it would also make it much harder to launder dirty money (i.e. the proceeds of illegal activity, to which the UK is an accessory). The boost to the public purse would surely offset the loss of revenue that might result from no longer serving as a clearing house for the proceeds of criminal activity (not least because much of that money goes into UK land and property speculation anyway, not jobs or productive enterprise). In the unlikely event that the large companies who currently avoid paying taxes in the UK (Amazon, Boots, Starbucks etc) do decide to stop doing business here, that will simply leave the market open to new UK-owned startups who will. If, as a nation, we then decide we want to have ultra low tax rates, we should do so through the front door, not by turning a blind-eye to tax avoidance and evasion through the back door.
  • Modernise and strengthen the Electoral Commission to properly regulate elections. First, by introducing rules prohibiting campaigns from knowingly spreading misinformation or disinformation (with sensible criteria to leave space for reasonable subjective interpretation). Second, by increasing the penalties for breaking electoral rules generally. At present, the maximum fine that can be imposed for breaking electoral law is a mere £20,000. To foreign donors who may be seeking to influence a UK election result, or to any political party considering cheating to win an election, this amount is seen as merely the cost of doing business; and to them, it’s a very low cost. When compared with the penalties that, for example, athletes face if they test positive to drugs, the penalties for breaking electoral rules are laughable. As well as increasing the maximum fines, a sensible change might be to introduce meaningful deterrents: for example, issuing retrospective 5 year, 10 year or even lifetime bans from holding or running for public office to campaign leaders whose campaigns are found to have knowingly and repeatedly broken electoral law.
  • Regulate social media platforms as we do other media companies, such that any company that profits by knowingly promoting misinformation or disinformation will face fines that amount to a significant portion of their turnover. Again, in the unlikely event that any large social media platforms do decide that this is too-great-a-cost to doing business, it will open up the market for new competitors to develop better solutions.
A 1914 recruitment poster showing Lord Kitchener pointing to the viewer, with the caption ‘Britons, Your Country Needs You’
  • A citizens’ dividend This would probably work best at the scale of individual regions, towns or cities. It would involve the introduction of measures to allow the community to recapture ground rent increases, of which a small percentage is then passed back to residents. So, as the neighbourhood improves and property values rise, every household receives a dividend: a percentage of the common wealth that they have helped to create. Essentially, it would be an antidote to neighbourhood gentrification. In practice however, it may be that residents would prefer to see all proceeds of ground rents invested directly into local infrastructure and services, such as schools or GPs, rather than being paid out as cash.
  • A citizens’ stipend The citizen’s stipend would be a fund that anyone can apply to, regardless of their circumstances, suggesting a way in which they want to work for the community — be it at the local, national or global scale. They might be unemployed, or they might just be taking a few years out of their career. Their proposal might be anything, from putting in place a community initiative to improve the lives of old people, to building the next World Wide Web. As long as the proposal passes certain tests, the applicant will be paid a basic wage for maximum 3 years; just enough to take the cost of living off the table, so they can focus on the intrinsic rewards of the work. Any individual or group that is receiving a citizens’ stipend will be personally accountable; every few weeks they will have to present their work to a group of peers and mentors. The fact that some of these projects may fail is not important. Those that succeed would have a huge impact, and those that fail would still help to foster a culture of proactive citizenship, inventiveness, social renewal, and a basic social guarantee that says ‘no one will be left behind. If you are willing to work for everyone, everyone will support you.’
  • Strategic investment When it comes to building and scaling new kinds of digital or physical infrastructure, or new kinds of zero carbon technology, or innovations aimed at improving people’s health or wellbeing, the policy of recent decades has been to leave it to venture capitalists (‘the Market’), who are motivated only by what makes most money for them, not what makes most value overall, or best serves our collective strategic interest as a society. The result has been, on one hand, the emergence of private platform monopolies, and on the other massive gaps and underinvestment in open and public sector platforms. The few that have been created—for example, the World Wide Web, Wikipedia, Gov.uk, Firefox, Linux — have had a huge impact on society and the economy, for a relatively tiny amount of money. And yet they are the exception, not the rule. Most such fledgling innovations are either left by the wayside, or forced down the path of taking VC investment. Before long, the original founders’ good intentions start getting squeezed out by the de facto legal purpose of the company: to maximise shareholder returns. Grant funding and social impact bonds are a good initial response to this problem, but are woefully insufficient. What is badly needed is an equivalent scale of investment infrastructure (mission-based-capital, startup accelerators etc) offering investment and support that is predicated on certain rules-of-engagement, for example, that solutions must be open source, or that the enterprises must be non-profit, or otherwise legally structured around a purpose other than maximising shareholder returns. One simple but powerful example of this is the idea of ‘capped returns’ investing. There are so many entrepreneurs today — young and old — who passionately wish this kind of investment was available to them, but it isn’t. Most people simply cannot imagine how much untapped potential there is for this kind of enterprise and innovation, motivated not by what makes money, but what needs doing.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store