I lead an organization with an ambitious mission: to transform the economy so that it works for people and the planet.
For 30 years, the New Economics Foundation has worked with others to evolve our economic system from the current model – growth at any cost – to one where the primary goal is to maximize human well-being, fairly and without destroying the environment on which we all depend.
We have had success. We have helped reform the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for the better and established over 800 businesses in the UK’s most disadvantaged areas. We coordinated the Jubilee 2000 Debt Coalition which led to the cancellation of unpayable poor country debt of $ 100 billion (Â£ 62.5 billion). And we really thought the time had come to persuade the UK government to start measuring human well-being.
But when the financial crisis has exposed more clearly than ever the flaws in the current economic status quo, it is not our vision that has risen from its ashes. In just six years, responsible banks have resumed operations as usual, while mainstream political discourse insists that the public sector should pay the price.
As well established as this story may seem, I am also confident that systemic change is possible. After all, fundamental changes in the mainstream have happened twice in my life. When I was growing up it was the shift to Keynesianism with its emphasis on government intervention and social safety nets. And in my adult life, the shift to neoliberalism with its emphasis on free markets and smaller government.
Looking back at what fueled these changes helped me understand the depth of our task today. In both cases, the focus was not on short-term policy change but on four key strategies. The discrediting of the existing dominant narrative and theory of how the economy works; creating and defending a new narrative and theory of how the economy should work; the weakening of the power bases that strengthen the current system; and the creation and growth of new power bases that drive a new narrative and a new theory.
It took 30 years for the first neoliberal economists to win the debate – from their first meeting in the isolated Swiss resort of Mount Pelerin in the late 1940s to Thatcher and Reagan to rise to power in the late 1970s. At that time, they created new institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, the Caton Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). They become dominant in the main economics departments of universities and in the editorial boards of academic journals; they have influenced case law. Most importantly, they created a powerful new narrative or story that was both simple and rooted in people’s concerns. A story based on three fundamental principles: individual freedom, free enterprise and limited government.
We and many other civil society organizations have been much better at telling what’s wrong with the current system than providing a new, positive story about how we can thrive while living within planetary ecological boundaries. We have tended to discuss the details rather than collaborating and building the infrastructure to support a powerful movement of change. We played our own instruments on our own scores in different orchestras, and the result was noise.
It is time to change tactics. The challenge ahead is greater than any organization, and at NEF we know from experience the power of partnerships. In the face of such systemic social, economic and environmental malaise, we must build a broad base of campaign leaders from across civil society – members of major nonprofits, labor unions and environmental, social justice and social groups. denominational. The reason so many of our campaign problems stem from the desperate need for a new kind of economic system.
The question then is what exactly do we represent? How are we working together to turn today’s progressive noise into a compelling new story about the economic system that we need?
My colleagues and I are now working to identify and test a new set of key principles to underpin this narrative. If the key ingredients of neoliberalism are individual freedom, free enterprise and small government, on what will a new, more just and sustainable economy be built?
We don’t have the answers – at least not yet – but our shortlist so far includes strengthening natural systems (instead of just supporting them), long-term investment, developing strong economies without market and the democratization of property and economic governance.
These may well change, but my current feeling is that if these principles were implemented, mankind would have a chance to provide enough good jobs and livelihoods for everyone on this planet without destroying our human system. survival. If you think I misplaced anything let me know below the line.
Politicians are only going to make such changes if there is enough public pressure and this in turn requires the generation of an exciting new story and a strong new power base to push it forward. That is the task: it is intimidating, yes, but it is both crucial and possible.
Stewart Wallis is Executive Director of the New Economics Foundation
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