A little idea to take on the ‘Big Society’

We need to face the fact that its statistically likely we’ll have a Coalition government by the end of the year. My strategic interest lies not in a the simple choice between the Coalition, and an alternative that’s ‘not the Coalition’. Rather, it’s in the strategy and form in which the progressive fight back can occur, one which when it inevitably recedes leaves a bedrock of a more empowered and engaged populace.

I was up in Canberra for the ACTU’s National Community Summit: Creating Secure Jobs and a Better Society earlier in the week, sitting through one of the workshop sessions on the ‘Big Society’. For me, the Tory idea of a ‘Big Society’ is essentially a public policy position to permanently alter the role of government so that large-scale multinational corporations can deliver services in a way which  flows profits back to whichever global capital the shareholders live. And it’s done in a manner so as to secure the support of some not-for-profit actors to provide a fig-leaf of charity/social justice support for a major corporate smash and grab exercise. Others have written more extensively on the idea of the Big Society, but for me we need to view the very term itself from the standpoint of capital – that is a ‘Big Society to profit from’.

In other words, the ‘Big Society’ is about how to turn even the delivery of critical social services into a stream for funneling money back to those who stand at the very top of the wealth pile. Have no doubt, this is what we’re about to see play out on the Federal scene. If you want an exercise in frustration and anguish gather together a table of union officials  to talk about how to deal with it – if I hear the phrases “we just need the government to do…” or “people just need to understand…” again I think I’ll cut myself. And then it struck me, a little idea to take on the ‘Big Society’, and assist in the early construction phase of a progressive fight back.

Let’s start with the contention that when it comes to matters of wealth distribution and equality – most people are basically social democratic in their outlook – they want a fairer distribution of the profits from productive labour. That’s a big call but let’s back it up. Watch this video below:

Well that’s just America you say, everyone knows it’s stuffed. Isn’t Australia different? If only we have the comparable data on actual wealth distribution, perceived wealth distribution and actual wealth distribution. Handily that work has already been commissioned and here it is. And what it tells you is that a clear majority of people want a far more equal distribution of wealth.

In the complex flow of life sometimes we miss the simple truths – if you want to empower people then empower them in what you do. If you believe in people power then trust in people. So let’s build the people powered fightback by letting people build it for themselves. That statement is not an abrogation of responsibility – it’s a call to arms for all those who care about real social justice, who care deeply about the development of people to have agency in their lives and realise their full potential, to take responsibility for putting together the tools that let the people build the fight back for themselves.

So back to that realisation that swung by and slapped me in the face; let’s take on the ‘Big Society’/the coming austerity and all of the increased inequality that entails with a video game. Let’s not dictate the alternative – the time of the vanguard is over, the time of the educator is now. Let’s have a video game that let’s people build and take ownership over their own positive  alternative vision, and together we can campaign on the fertile territory of shared values/proposals.

A kind of prototype of what I’m talking about already exists, it’s called Budget Hero.

Budget Hero

Go and play it for yourself (it really only takes a few minutes). Honestly, it’s not the world’s most earth shattering game. Furthermore,  I don’t agree with all of the assumptions and limitations that have been placed around the game but it gives you a rough sense of what you can do. I’d start with some better graphics, explicitly add in the idea of wealth distribution, give greater scope to play around with taxes, give players greater control over the role of government (selling off/purchasing national assets + outsourcing/insourcing services), and tie in specific measures based on real-world experiences that traverse global geography and recent history. Basically you are giving players control over creating the sort of society they want to see.

I can already imagine a follow up game where you’ve got to go out and build a movement to win over support for the outcomes players have self-identified from the first game.

We have the resources across between the email lists of Get Up, unions, environmental groups, and NGOs to get the volunteers together to start building this tomorrow if we really wanted to get this done. We’d have the financial resources across broader progressive groups to pay for key design components, and the distribution channels are already there. As the prophet Macklemore said, “change the game/don’t let the game change you”.


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