Matthew Taylor’s latest excellent blog has helped crystallised for me what troubles me about David Cameron’s golden thread of development. In case you are coming to this new; the golden thread is the government’s take on the essential ingredients (apologies for mixed metaphors) for successful development. These are individual rights, transparency and private sector growth. Whilst we would agree that all three are good and very important, they do represent a somewhat one dimensional view that is in danger of reinforcing an individualistic approach to development.
But why does this represent an individualistic approach? The philosophical basis seems to be that we need to have less barriers, more openness, more entrepreneurship. By itself this represents a negative view of freedom – that left to their own devices with the information they need – people will be free to realise their potential. The absence of interference whether from the state or others is based on a particular understanding of the way markets should function. But, of course freedom without purpose or without limits is problematic as the banking crisis demonstrates and I am sure the Prime Minister would agree. As Taylor argues for all its strengths the flipside of individualism is selfishness.
Taylor believes that social justice needs to be held as a limit to individualism particularly in societies which are highly unequal. Catholic Social Teaching would agree on the need for a balance between the rights of individuals and the need for social justice, but it would also contend that each agent or actor should be oriented towards a clear common purpose or telos otherwise we are in danger of perpetuating unfreedom for some or even the many. So forgive me for probably stretching the metaphor a bit too far, but if the golden thread is not the right one the whole jumper may unravel.