By John Gray
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Additional resources for After Social Democracy: Politics, Capitalism and the Common Life
The demands of fairness are most urgent in the central issue of the post-social-democratic period: that of developing a policy for livelihood when the post-war pursuit of full employment is no longer realistic. Conventional social-democratic thought has relied upon ambitious reskilling programmes with a resumption of rapid economic growth. 17 In an age of unceasing technological innovation, a poor education system guarantees economic failure. The idea that British economic culture can be renewed without fundamental reform of education is plainly an exercise in fantasy.
This is an implication – in my view a reality – that is deeply at odds with our inherited traditions of moral and political thinking. Talk of trade-offs and costs and benefits trivialises the fact that public policy inescapably involves making hard collective choices among genuine goods. Both welfare reform and tax reform encompass such choices. The distributional conflicts such choices entail are better understood in terms of the conflicting demands of fairness. Some of these conflicts concern intergenerational fairness – an issue I cannot discuss here, except in passing, despite its clear and growing importance.
A new policy agenda on work and the family, replacing the post-war social-democratic policy of full employment, cannot promise rapid results or easy solutions. It must confront the evident truths that the growth of an excluded underclass can only be slowed, let alone reversed, by radical reforms in education and in welfare. 26 Any workable reform of welfare must begin from the fact that the Beveridge settlement has been destroyed not only by neoliberal policy but also by the vast changes in family life and in the labour market that Demos This page is covered by the Demos open access licence.