The Three Dimensions of Freedom: Billy Bragg
October 11, 2019
“Our enemy is not capitalism, it’s not conservatism, its cynicism.”
Billy Bragg is an acclaimed songwriter, activist, and author. We recently sat down in front of a live audience at Columbia University’s Holder Initiative to discuss his latest book, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, the current state of Western Democracy, how we got here, and what we can do to make it better.
Loss of Agency
One of the most important factors in a healthy democracy is the sense of agency. When citizens in a democracy feel they have some agency over their lives, whether it is economic, social, or political, they will work together to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their society. When this sense is taken from them by outside variables such as market forces, they lose this sense of collectivism, and become less likely to work together. This division leaves an opening for bad-faith actors and aggressive populism to take hold in otherwise stable democracies.
The Three Dimensions of Freedom
There are three ideas that bind and define a successful democracy. They are liberty, equality, and accountability. While liberty is the end-goal of modern democracy, it needs to be acted upon and bolstered by equality and accountability. If a democracy has liberty but not equality, that liberty is little more than privilege. Further, if a democracy has liberty but not accountability, that liberty becomes impunity to act without consequences. Lack of accountability through the loss of individual agency is a major reason why bulwark democracies like the US and the UK are facing crises today.
Accountability is Paramount
Many of the problems facing Western democracies today are the result of a dearth of accountability on many levels. Market deregulation and the globalization of capital markets have undermined accountability for companies as well as governments from the local to the national level. Executives are now narrowly focused on shareholder return, primarily at the expense of the average worker. Politicians also increasingly represent and serve special interests, resulting in policies that favor a select few and discount average citizens. In order to return to an equitable financial system and democratic process, we must urgently address the lack of accountability.
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Billy Bragg is a well-known songwriter, musician, author, and activist living in the UK. Beginning in the 1980s, Bragg released a series of socially-conscious folk-rock albums focusing on political and romantic themes. Bragg continues to release albums, including 2017’s Build Bridges Not Walls, and sells out tour dates around the world.
Staunchly progressive, Bragg is a self-proclaimed socialist whose musical career has been paralleled only by his decades of activism. Bragg has written several books, including The Three Dimensions of Freedom, which came out earlier this year.
You can follow Billy Bragg on Twitter @billybragg.