Imagine if the point of politics was to look after the common good. What would that look like? It would have to start from a fundamental belief in the human right to health, dignity and a decent quality of life. It could hardly therefore put the interests of big business ahead of the interests of ordinary people. It would not see wealth as the measure of a human being.
Politics for the common good would take care of essential things. It would be driven to make sure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is safe and free from pollution. It would make health care and education available to all. As we clearly can’t guarantee everyone full time employment, a political system interested in the good of all would figure out a way of handling the economics that didn’t leave the unemployed destitute. Probably it would bring in something like a citizen’s income. Tedious labour and hard labour would be shared out.
If the good of all were the priority, we’d think about the good of future generations, too. We’d build with an eye for durability and beauty. We’d find built in obsolescence unacceptable. We’d recognise the good that is nature, in wild things and landscapes and we’d protect those too and avoid exploitation – for their sake and for ours. We’d promote work life balance, rest, leisure, and quality of life. In fact, progress could not be measured by GDP in this context, because the only progress worth considering is one of collective wellbeing. We’d be more interested in happiness than in profit.
We’d throw away the silly idea of trickledown economics – which manifestly doesn’t work, and look for better ways to share the abundance. Education would be about enrichment and personal development. Health would be about helping people be healthy first and foremost, not selling cures for avoidable problems.
We’d have to start asking big questions about what it means to be happy, to be fulfilled, to live well. What constitutes ‘enough’ in terms of material possessions? How do we improve the quality of life for everyone?
And when you start thinking this way, it becomes pretty obvious that the common good is not the basis on which our political systems operate. None of the above things are priorities in most countries. We need to change that.