Today we have a magic wand — let’s use it
Right now, the unthinkable is happening, and the radiowaves are filled with anxious calls for governments to prop up the economy or risk collapse. I think we can do better than that. Much better than that. I think we can transform ‘the economy’ from an ailing despot into a life-giving force. It may sound like a magic wand fantasy — but it’s not. I think we have a choice right now, and it’s the choice between living on in a world of nightmares, or making the changes that allow us to live in lasting prosperity.
The trouble as I see it, is that the world economy is toxic to nature, and nature is shutting it down. Those who think this is just a temporary blip that we can borrow our way through are mistaken. We’re all talking about ‘social distancing’ at the moment, but that’s what ‘Business as usual’ has been delivering for a long time. Our misguided ideas about wealth have discounted the value of nature to such an extent, that we’ve driven species wipeouts for decades, and even disrupted the climate conditions that sustain life as we know it. I’m with Einstein — the definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over, and expect different results.
Nature is really all there is. We are nature — we contain it, we are part of it — and so by my reckoning — nature’s ‘rules’ are the ones we should observe. The economy behaves naturally — tap it in the right place with something like, I dunno, a virus, and the contagion illustrates brilliantly clearly how connected and dependent we all are on each other. Unfortunately, these dependencies aren’t well catered for if you think The Economy is every man (and yes, it’s still mainly men) for himself and that to be successful we MUST conquer our way to the top of the pile. It rather misses the point that the pile is made up of the people you’re stranding on, and they may easily give way.
As I understand it (and I spent nearly all of the ’90s as a bigwig at a Chamber of Commerce) the British economy is made up mainly of small businesses — well over 90%. I’m on the board of the Centre for Thriving Places, which must be typical of those. We don’t have great cash reserves, and so if the money flow gets disrupted, we don’t have long before we have to cut the costs. Most of our costs are wages, and without people, we are nothing.
I’m not a qualified economist (unless you count an A level), and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to be, but I do know this — in unthinkable territory, it’s possible to do unthinkable things.
I’m going to imagine I’m in charge. Fairly unthinkable I know, but there’s more. If I were, and I were facing the very real prospect of a cascading mass unemployment event, here’s what I’d do.
I’d point out that all the numbers are just numbers in the end and that there’s precedent for these kinds of events. When nature nudges us gently with a tsunami, volcanic eruption, hurricane or whatever, we effectively shrug and write it off. What else can we do? No sense in saying ‘our word is our bond, and you agreed to be bound by this debt’. That’s just fantasy if the means of paying are wiped out. Insurers have (always?) known this, hence the little ‘nature’ clause in the small print to make it clear they can’t/won’t pay.
SO — in my unthinkable fantasy ‘in charge-ness’, I’d declare a kind of in extremis emergency account with as much credit as necessary to pay for life-giving services. The big difference from what we’re hearing in the news, is that this account would be directed by new measures of prosperity. I’d use the Thriving Places Index both to direct the cash injections and assess the value of the returns — something that conventional measures can’t do because they [who prize GDP] ‘measure everything except that which makes life worthwhile’. Thank you Bobby Kennedy.
I wouldn’t (couldn’t) mothball, freeze or otherwise stop the ‘old’ economy. That would stutter along with people doing what they could, but essentially doing what it’s always done — which is slash itself to pieces in self-interested competition. Meanwhile the ‘in extremis’ version of national accounts would be growing vigorously, spreading wellbeing, sowing social harmony, and repairing environmental damage.
Before you know it, people would be looking at each other and asking — ‘who wants to go back to THAT? Let it die — THIS is the economy we’ve been looking for…..’
So that’s my fantasy — only I don’t think it’s any more fantastical than the story we’ve been living. There are other measures of prosperity of course — it’s just that I’ve spent 10 years working on the one that we’ve developed at the Centre for Thriving Places, so it’s the one I know best.
As luck would have it, the results of this year’s analysis are being announced tomorrow, so you may see something about it in the press. I truly believe we have a magic wand in our hands, and that by waving it, we can come to the rescue of ourselves.
I think we can answer the cries of anger, sadness and distress so clearly visible in the youth-led movement for climate action — and I think that what they’re pointing at is our place within nature.
We have a choice. We have a choice right now. Self destruct by continuing to do what we’ve been doing — or re-define our ideas of economy. If The Economy matters so much, and we know it has to grow — shouldn’t we be asking what we’re growing and why?
Love you all. Thanks for listening