We Need Stewardship In Statesmanship

07/09/2017 12:53

With all the woes in the world -- nuclear standoffs to poor paying employment -- it's easy to become paralysed and apathetic. Worse: there's a nihilistic streak that undermines wellbeing when it is allowed to grow.

Broken ideological creeds were forged in different times. They appear fixed in the past when we need to face the future. This doesn't, however, mean we ditch the lessons from them.

We do not live in a world where we can predict what will happen next. Fukushima, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and Brexit stand out as examples. So, regrettably, does Grenfell.

But we should not fear the future. What we can say with absolute certainty is that it will occur. Nothing else beyond a lot of physics, however, is. This may seem like a banal point, but it's one that needs clarifying. What we need is a flexible and open-minded way of thinking that is able to harness uncertainty in our favour. We do not need rigid regimes based on the dusty words that let us down. The worst sin of rigidity in thought is that it leads to disaster and the 'oh, we didn't see it coming'. A lack of intellectual dexterity boxes us in. It makes us fragile. We need to be better. And better is the right word. Because that's what Stewardship means.

Stewardship, derived from hall + guard, is the idea that you leave things better for your successors than you were given by your predecessors. A very simple concept that has wonderful and broad implications.

Consider economics. Stewardship would mean a better and wealthier life for all. Consider the environment. Consider health. Consider education. It even applies to cleaning the shower after you've used it. Right from the humdrum to the high and mighty, Stewardship can be applied to nearly everything. And its essence is effective.

It's effective because Stewardship allows you to see a simple truth: you need to conceive of and use what works. Not what is just theorised. Not what is without evidence. Not what is assumed. Simply, what works. You need the evidence from doing. It is through tinkering, trying, and learning through evidence we arrive at what we need: what works. Stewardship is built, made and created.

Stewardship enables values we should use to guide our economic, political and personal lives. Crucially, it's dynamic. A lot of mess (e.g., the financial crisis) was made worse by seeing our world as some giant machine instead of the living organism it is. Too often we view life as a machine in our minds that then turns out to be a Turk machine in real life.

We should nurture our public and economic spaces as well as ourselves. It's freedom built upon responsibility and seeking reciprocity with our political and economic environment that we inhabit.

Does this sound woolly? It might. It isn't. Approaching political, economic or social challenges with the guiding ethos of Stewardship is important. Above all, it enables us to tackle uncertainty because it knows it's there in the first place. Grenfell Tower, properly cared for, wouldn't have led to so many deaths.

For example, consider the intersection of public health and wider economic life. We know that poor health, expensive healthcare costs and inadequate practitioner performance can harm us personally. For broader society, the lack of healthy people harms their economic output. Bad health is a drag on us all. Stewardship, applied correctly, would tackle our health to ensure that it's better than what came before.

But how is that any different? Stewardship isn't restrained by old creeds. Take health again. Is public healthcare better than privately funded for society? The evidence does seem to suggest so. Are internal markets within public hospitals a good idea? It doesn't seem so. Should PFI building of hospitals be encouraged? Not judging by the expensive legacy bills, no. What Stewardship does is shift the belief agenda up a rung on the intellectual ladder. It's not: 'I believe the State or Market' knows best; it's 'I believe the evidence shows me the best way to leave society healthier than before'.

And it's not just this welcome dose of pragmatism. It's an ideological position that welcomes evolution. We shouldn't be shackled either to a broken past or flashpan futurology. Stewardship invites challenges to thinking. It thrives on them. There is no dogma that Y or Z is the best way 'just cos'. Something is only the best way because it has shown itself to be -- until something comes along to displace it. Any scant reading of the battles progressive scientists have faced will show you how harmful a closed mind can be.

We need stewards as citizens, politicians, policy makers and business leaders. In doing so we create wealth, real wealth, for all -- not just the many, or the few.