Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Your argument and Julio's remark that "there is no alternative" got me thinking. I needed time to develop something resembling a considered response . . . and then life happened. Much of what follows is an attempt to gather together some of my thoughts, rather than the lecture it may come across as.
My concern is that your strategy of “boiling the frog slowly” will fail in a political system characterised by frequent federal and state elections. Instinctively, I’m not an incrementalist. I find myself wanting significant political and policy change, sooner rather than later. While I wouldn’t (couldn’t!) argue against sustained incremental improvements in the safety net, there is every possibility that the Democrats would fail to retain power consistently over multiple election cycles. Meanwhile, the sick and the homeless would continue to suffer, the environment would come closer to ruin, and the frog would hop away!
For a few years, I hoped that policy models which emphasise the importance of problem definition and agenda-setting would stimulate strategies for policy change. You’ve referred to Schattschneider on more than one occasion. His work concerning the expansion and containment of social conflict has been hugely influential in policy theory. Cobb and Elder, Kingdon, Stone, Baumgartner and Jones, and Rochefort and Cobb, have all, in one way or another, developed models of policy change premised upon Schattschneider’s work to study how problem definition and agenda-setting facilitate policy change.
However, despite policy change and some incremental improvement, the problems have largely persisted. In Australia, for example, while home ownership has increased, so have personal debt and homelessness, and the availability of social housing has declined. The culture, health and welfare of Indigenous people continue to be “out of sight, out of mind” – despite billions of dollars directed towards them in Commonwealth-State financial agreements. As for the environment, well, that’s been well-documented. A broader examination of countries around the world reveals notable improvements in standards of living and, yet, the majority of people within these countries have missed out and are living in much the same squalor and oppression as earlier generations.
I’m unconvinced that our respective political and economic systems – as they stand – can resolve these problems and provide the basis for a better world. We seem to do little more than pass through a succession of cycles of rinse and repeat. All those great young minds that you and Julio encountered at graduate school and in government strike me as being largely wasted on political point-scoring and/or propping up a system that constantly fails billions of people. Meanwhile, despite enormous technological improvements, human suffering continues and environmental degradation worsens. The concerns voiced by Bernie Sanders, the Squad and other progressives are valid. However, the challenges we face require more than the correct choice of policy instrument for a particular problem type.
Systemic change is required. And, we need something other than the capitalist / socialist solutions that have prevailed and failed over the past few centuries. “There is no alternative” though, if we cannot bring ourselves to at least imagine a different world – one which is not focussed upon economic growth and the exploitation of people and the environment. And, yet, we know that systemic political and economic transformation is a part of history. Why should we assume that this moment is the “end of history” when such thinking literally cuts off possibilities to the contrary?
It seems perfectly reasonable to me that some intellectual effort be directed towards alternative “paths”, “modes of thought” and “concepts”. I’ve reach that stage of my life where I’m happy to explore ideas and change. Hence, just recently, I began a broad study of the concept of “transformation”. Karl Jaspers’ The Origin and Goal of History (1953) and his discussion of religious transformation will be the focal point for this work. Ultimately, I envisage delving (drowning?!) into Alfred North Whitehead process philosophy to explore the possibility and conceptualisation of a process theory of politics. Needless to say, there’s a lot of work ahead of me!
In the meantime, I’d like to see the safety net improved as quickly as possible.