The Common Sense of the Common Good

Glasgow City Council faced the age old problem as both Aristotle and George Bush did. Regarding the public’s affairs, there are two ways of dealing with public accountability and the public’s happiness.

One is reducing poverty. The other is reducing democracy.

The former, Aristotle would have picked, the latter the choice of Bush. Glasgow City Council, concerning Glasgow’s Common Good, also chose the second option.

But what if they had chosen the other?

In the corporate speak of Glasgow City Council “An opportunity had been recognised” Namely the Common Good. Not as a shining accolade of democratic pride and accomplishment that it represents, or a tool that could be used to bolster public participation, particularly in the depressed areas of our city.

Unfortunately no. – The opportunity recognised was privatisation.

But other opportunities could have been recognised. One could have been to enhance the accountability to the job of public servant. A city council that is serious about social inclusion, is one that should be using the status of our common ownership, to encourage responsibility, pride and hope, in it’s citizens?

Why cant the facilities and profits of our Common Good, not be “recognised” as a window of opportunity to actually start encouraging our citizens especially our young, whose future these thing will affect most – to start taking some responsibility, to start taking an interest and getting involved in deciding how they want to live there lives? The Common Good, could produce a format for these real ideas, that young people could benefit and learn from and in the process, create “real” jobs that go with the responsibility?

Council workers once took pride of place in Glasgow, where, folk with a job in the Corporation, felt an achievement about what they were doing.

The resource’s of the Common Good, used in this way would not have to rely so heavily on loans, business and banks, whose only concern is to create profit margins for shareholders. (not the public shareholders)

If our city is to survive when the development bubble bursts. What will we be left with; luxury flats, shopping malls? Citizens do not gain much in the expansion of business profits. Our roll is to pay for the failures of business. When the corporate sponge leaves town taking our money and jobs with it. The rent or the mortgage does not get cheaper. When this happens (and it will sure as night follows day.) The Common Good is one of the few safety nets we have left for such times, where folk no matter how poor, can feel that they are at least part of something.

The privatising of the Common Good is both patronising as well as alienating. Patronising in the idea that we need a small elite of business people who know everything about profit and very little about our culture and who will control our city’s asset through secret meetings. This implies that we [the public] are not capable through our own council and representatives, of running our own affairs, in our own interests.

We have in our communities a talent pool that is being ignored, of people who are quite capable in deciding what is needed in the places they inhabit. And if an expert is also needed to help out, why cant folk chose there own experts?

It is a myth that we need to deal with multinationals to do our public works. Nor do we need to import endless unneeded commodities which only makes the suppliers rich and the domestic wages poor. Our Common Good assets should be working for the Common Good and avoiding where possible the debt of banks and illegitimate trusts.

lessons from Guernsey
‘…In the early 19th century the little British Channel island of Guernsey faced a smaller but similar problem. Its sea walls were crumbling. Its roads were to narrow, and it was already heavily in debt. There was little employment, and people were leaving for elsewhere.

Instead of going still further into debt the island government simply issued 4’000 pounds in state notes to start repairs on the sea walls as well as for other needed public works. More issues followed and twenty years latter the island had printed nearly 50,000 pounds. Guernsey had more than doubled its money supply without inflation. A report for the islands States Office in June 1946 notes that island leaders frequently commented that these public works could not have been carried out without the issues, that they had been accomplished without interest costs, and that as a result

“the influx of visitors was increased, commerce was stimulated and the prosperity of the island vastly improved.”…

…About the same time that Guernsey started to fix its sea walls the city of Glasgow, Scotland borrowed 60,000 pounds to build a fruit market. The guernsey seawalls were repaid in 10 years; the fruit market loan took 139. In the first part of the 20th century Glasgow paid over a quarter of a million pounds in interest alone on this ancient project. How did Guernsey avoid the fiscal disaster that conventional economics provided for it? First and foremost that understanding that when you build roads or seawalls or colleges or houses, you are not reducing your societies wealth. In fact, if you do it right, you are creating something that will add to its wealth. The money that was created was simply backed by public works rather than gold or “full faith and credit.”‘[Smith]

So is there nothing to learn from history in a town renowned for spiraling budgets?

“A council spokesman said land and property worth “hundreds of millions of pounds” was available for sale, but he could not identify specific sites for commercial reasons.” [Evening Times]

The above is typical of the quotes that our City Council is giving out daily in the sell off of our public estate. This one is concerned with funding the Commonwealth Games, The operative words being “could not identify specific sites for commercial reasons” translating as. It’s none of the publics business what we do.

I think if the public really want to try out the candidates for the next election, one of the first questions we should be asking is. “What’s your take on the privatisation of public property?”

Should our Common Good be in the hands of a private business?
Should our Common Good be the responsibility of those we voted that responsibility to?

It may not seem the most pressing question you have at the moment. But if the City council leaders can give away our wealth so easily do you really think they will stop there.

On the other hand this issue is starting to throw some light on what we do actually hold in common. In a time of disintegrating communities, debt, despair, increasing mental health problems, violence and financial disparity – The Common Good may be the very symbolic and creative tool we could use and need, to alleviate some of these problems. The refocusing on the Common Good, could create some hope in the idea that there is – such a thing as society – and that members of the general public have a responsibility and a role to play in it – and our city council have a duty to seek our opinions when dealing with such important matters.
Debt ridden britain:
Chomsky on Common Good
Sam Smith’s Great American Political Repair Manual P99