Will the Left insist on getting it right?

Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 alternate endings to Farewell to Arms, which was ultimately published in 1929. When asked the reasons for writing so many different endings, he once replied: “Getting the words right.” If only we had a similarly absolute determination to perfect our society. Every night in Adelaide, at the back door of the…

Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 alternate endings to Farewell to Arms, which was ultimately published in 1929. When asked the reasons for writing so many different endings, he once replied: “Getting the words right.” If only we had a similarly absolute determination to perfect our society. Every night in Adelaide, at the back door of the Pilgrim Uniting Church, sleeping bags and rugs keep bodies warm as they sleep unsheltered. The front of the church faces the State Administration Centre and a coffee shop where those who matter come to meet. The men and women of influence beating a path to Parliament House walk down the same alley as those who sought refuge from the night air just hours earlier. Members of a labour movement that dreams of a fair and equal society would have much to consider on this short trek. A movement in search of that perfect society – even one mature enough to know that perfection will be forever beyond reach – must share Hemingway’s determination to “get it right”. But Hemingway was blessed with an innate sense of how “getting the words right” would feel. Can it be said today that we share his bloody-minded search for perfection? To get it right is to shape an economy that achieves both growth and equality. It is also to reject any notion of getting it half right. To get it half right is to see the economy grow while poverty increases. To get it half right is to focus on equality of opportunity, rather than actual equality, even if talking about the former has coincided with a worsening of the latter. To allow these imbalances to emerge uncontested, for fear of the contest itself, does not do justice to the community that rightly expects something better. Enlightened societies like Japan and Sweden have provided something better precisely because they did not lose their commitment to getting it right. Why not ours? The task is made more difficult because our most fundamental error is discursive. This is an error that Hemingway simply would not countenance. We now speak of economic policy and social policy as if oceans separated them. “We will achieve growth on one hand,” we are told “…and address poverty on the other.” Economic policy and social policy have divorced, while they should be considered inseparable. The economic settings to which we have become accustomed have a direct – and negative – effect on how citizens relate to one another. If unemployment and inequality continue to grow, social cohesion will likely be decimated. South Australia, with slightly higher unemployment and slightly lower levels of inequality than the rest of the nation, will be no better or worse off during this challenging period. Yet we seek to address the effects and not the causes. There appears to be no substantive change to our economic system on the horizon, nor an imminent shift in our consideration of it. We play with words here and there – rather than insist upon our mastery of them – to provide a mirage that there exists a point of difference, but we are currently presented with the non-choice neo-liberalism and a ‘third-way’ described by its creator as “capitalism with a human face”. There is no future for either. One of the endings Hemingway rejected read: “That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.” The self-regulating markets that we have been asked to trust simply, do not work. Government intervention is necessary. Socialism died and Neo-liberalism will die and ‘capitalism with a human face’ will die and that is all I can promise you. We must be prepared to shape and reshape our approach until we get it right. @AndrewHunter__

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