David Boyle

What is new economics?

New Economics Foundation, 1993

 

Take a walk through any city in the world, dodging the traffic, coughing through the exhaust, stepping over for a moment the beggars on the pavement, past the massive glass cathedrals of commerce.

             

Suddenly you find yourself in a very different environment.  The traffic is still heavy, but the shops are boarded up. The litter is thicker on the ground. The glass towers look dowdy and have washing hanging from the balconies.

You've gone too far.  Stop and retrace your steps, or rewind the tape.

Somewhere between the two, there is a theoretical line - ever so narrow.  This is the no man's land between powerful and powerless, the rich and poor, between the old world and the new.

In London, you might find this point between Aldgate and Commercial Road, where the East End begins and the City of London ends.  Billions of pounds flow through the City every day, but precious few reach the few yards over this invisible border.

This is also where you will find the offices of the New Economics Foundation, Britain's foremost alternative economic think-tank.

At this mid-way point, between 'developed and 'undeveloped', you will find a source of new thinking on economics - which bears witness to hope beyond the present crumbling system which has given rise to such disparities.

New Economics is the rallying point for people who no longer accept the economic system as 'given', a set of natural laws they are powerless to change and which they must grin and bear.  It is for people who realise there are alternatives.

Old criticisms

Economics can seem to rule our lives with almost the same sway as medieval religion ruled the lives of our ancestors.

"Today's army of accountants, bankers, tax-people, insurance brokers, stock jobbers, foreign exchange dealers and countless other specialists in money, is the modern counterpart of the medieval army of priests, friars, monks, nuns, abbots and abbesses, pardoners, summoners and other specialists in religious procedures and practices," said new economist James Robertson in his book Future Wealth.  "The theologians of the late Middle Ages have their counterparts in the economists of the late industrial age."

Economics has become astonishingly complex, affected by an encyclopedia of different, almost theological, factors - moods, beliefs, hopes, fears. 

A change in mood or a slight disappointment or mistake at the controls of the economic machine is increasingly disastrous.

If the stock market on the other side of the world gets hiccups, hole sections of our own lives get indigestion. And such is our fear of failure that a mere half of one percent slackening in economic growth will put half a million people out of work.  For all the accepted cures peddled by politicians and experts, the system neither works as it should, nor is under their control, and still less the control of ordinary people.

The truth is that this old economics is partially blind. It draws circle around the financial economy, and cannot see outside to a social or environmental dimension - myopically peering at the instruments which register 'success', and failing to see anything outside its own narrow interpretation of what wealth is.

Old economics is therefore full of hidden costs, trading the health of communities and the environment for freeways and the promise of better times around the corner.

Cost to the planet

Rampant economic growth since the beginning of the industrial revolution has taken the environmental devastation of British cities in the 19th century and made it worldwide.  

Forests have disappeared, many people live in air that is barely breathable, dams have devastated thousands of square miles, chemicals have destroyed livelihoods and now the ability of the earth to sustain life is in doubt.

The statistics are frightening.  Tropical forest continues to disappear at the rate of over 30,000 square miles a year, because the old, blind economics provides incentives for their removal.  As a result, the deserts grow by six million hectares a year.

In the long run, an economic system which no account of raw materials or waste disposal must go head-to-head with the systems that sustain life on earth. 

"Man talks of a battle with nature," says the pioneering new economist E F Schumacher in Small is Beautiful, "forgetting that if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side."

Cost to the poor

Far from banishing poverty, old economics has forced the divisions between rich and poor ever wider apart.

In the third world, around one billion people depend for their livelihood on traditional farming and diverse forms of community support.  But large, intensive farms and the profits from export are what create wealth in the eyes of old economics.   The result is the creation of new poor alongside the new money - in shanty towns or without land in the countryside.  And the new money?  Around a third is needed simply to pay off old loans to banks and governments in the North.

In sub-Saharan Africa, incomes have fallen on average by about quarter during the 1980s.  Africa and Latin America are crippled by debt.  Even development projects, like India's massive dam projects, are set to displace hundreds of thousands of people to uncertain dependent futures.

The process which began in England in the 18th century, enclosing common land, stealing the economic independence of ordinary people and forcing them to become landless 'slaves' or paupers in cities, has gone worldwide.

Self-reliance is abandoned. Economies become less diverse and all the more vulnerable to sudden change.

Cost to the rich

In Britain, meanwhile, the majority has luxuries unimagined by their grandparents while the destitute still cluster round the big marble offices.  But the quality of life of all is more and more affected by the so-called 'limits to growth'.

Oil reserves are nearly exhausted, and their scarcity endangers world peace day by day.  Americans meanwhile use more than 600 times as much energy as average Ethiopians. 

We have foreign holidays, wider and wider life choices - more families have a television than have an outside lavatory.  Yet still the youth suicide rate rockets, one in three marriages break-up, people commute four hours a day to work, their children join cults or get addicted to drugs and finally they die miserable meaningless deaths attached to tubes in hospital.  

Each and every day 76 million valium tablets are taken in the USA and about all this old economics has nothing whatever to say.  

"Industrial humanity is behaving like King Midas," said Paul Ekins in Wealth Beyond Measure.  "He turned his daughter into gold before he realised the limitations of his own conception of wealth."

New evidence

These new environmental and social crises - from Delhi to Detroit - have intensified the search for new thinking.  

When the seven richest nations in the world held their G7 summit in London in 1984, a diverse group of alternative thinkers came together from all over the world to hold a parallel event - The Other Economic Summit (TOES). 

TOES continues every year, following the G7 leaders around the world, reminding them of their empty promises and challenging their right to speak for the world.  TOES gave birth to a movement, and in the UK led to the launch of the New Economics Foundation in 1986 as well as a series of other pressure groups and think-tanks around the world.  

What makes the 1990s different is that a new attitude is emerging to the way the world works.  We put less faith in experts these days, and a new science, a new politics and a new morality are forcing changes in economics as we speed towards the millennium.

New science

The old economics emphasises forces and cause and effect, and emerged out of a Newtonian view of the universe.  Now our culture has come to terms with relativity, quantum mechanics and chaos theory.

The simple flapping of a butterfly's wings over China could affect the weather patterns in the UK, says Professor Stephen Hawking in his bestseller A Brief History of Time. 

The universe is not predictable.  The patterns of life are so incredibly complex that simple models cannot cope with them.  It's the same with economics.  

As much as $400 billion flow its foreign exchange system every day, leaving Citibank chief John Reed feeling "like the physicist who created the bomb."  Yet only one dollar in 20 of that has any relation to financing real international trade. The systems that run the world of money are so interconnected, and the effects so wide-ranging, that a new approach is urgently needed.

New politics

Two massive political forces have dominated the history of the 20th century - capitalism and communism.  The politics of almost every country in the world has been dominated by shifts in economic thinking between the two of them.

In Britain, our watered down versions of both traditions have failed and there is an exhausted distrust of economics. Conservative free market economics has ignored the poor and ruined the environment while Keynesian intervention and high state spending has centralised power and devastated community social systems.

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown and Labour MP Gordon Brown have both begun to call for a New Economics.  People are increasingly aware that the theories of economics fit few of the realities: people are more complicated than the textbooks say.  At the same time, there are signs of a new kind of voter - who places more importance on health and independence than keeping up with the neighbours.  They realise that something vital is missing from the economic debate.

New morality

All may be fair in love and war, but people no longer feel the same is so of economics. 

We have become used to a utilitarian approach to business - as Keynes said, we have to pretend for a while that "foul is useful and fair is not" - but people have given up waiting.  Ethical consumers and ethical investors have begun to rediscover principles about the way we treat each other economically.  

New ideas

So what do we do?   Old economics imagines itself like a machine, with raw materials coming in from nowhere, going through the system and vanishing out the other end as waste - disappearing, like the black owls in Zuleika Dobson, 'none knows whither'.  It measures throughput and then abandons the effort.

But it is not enough to pretend to paper over the cracks by extending old economics to cover the environment, assigning a price to scarce raw materials or waste.  One Washington economist valued Kenya's elephants at $25 million each because it was 'easy to remember'.  This is much too hit or miss.

The first task is to make sure that unrecognised world outside is included in the machine, and that the environment is given a proper value in economics.  We must make sure that the cost of pollution and waste is included and that raw materials reflect their real, long-term value.  

We have to look at economics not as a one-way process but a circle, related to all the natural cycles of the earth.  The raw materials go round and emerge eventually, after going through the natural processes, as raw materials again.

It takes millions of years, of course, but this is how natural cycles actually work: dust to dust, ashes to ashes - it's the nature of the universe, and economics must at least recognise it, and replicate the process.

So an efficient, sustainable economy is one which uses its waste products as its raw materials. We can never do so totally, but the more we can, the cleaner and more efficient the economy is.

This is the source of a series of policies for a green economy waiting to be taken up.  New Economics argues, for example, for 'ecological taxation reform' to shift taxes from productive activities like work, investment and business to destructive activities such as pollution, waste and inefficient use of resources.

But in practice, only local economies can fully re-use their own waste in these ways, satisfying many of their own needs without being dependent on the world outside.

Coupled with this is an emphasis on making money less footloose.  As long as it is easier to make money out of money rather than productive investment, money is a master and not a tool.

New economists talk about creating 'multi-layered' economies, with international currencies, city currencies and community currencies available to underpin different aspects of local life.

Local economies will then also re-use money locally, without it swooping off to be invested in huge capital projects by international banks.

New Economics shows how these tough, defensible local economies can be built up, and how the diversity this fosters a resilience to economic or environmental shock.  Diversity can survive when monocultures fall apart.

             

New economists are polemicists, but they are primarily describing an emerging new system as biologists would describe a new species - describing a democratisation of economics which is happening whether anybody likes it or not.

New Economics redefines four concepts:


Wealth

The first task of New Economics is to redefine success.  

We all know what wealth is.  But people increasingly feel that it misses out rather a lot - you can be money-rich and miserable, money-rich and ill or money-rich and lonely.

In the same way, simply counting money is not necessarily the best way of judging whether a place is successful.  New York City may be rich, if you count the wealth of everyone who lives there, but it is also dirty, dangerous, polluted and people are leaving it in their thousands - as they are leaving cities all over the Western world.

It is not just that there are inadequacies of life for those who old economics described as rich. Taking the wrong definition of wealth means, in the words of two economics Nobel Prize Winners, that "we can impoverish ourselves while imagining that our economies are growing."

Gross National Product (GNP), the measure of success used by old economics, ignores all this.  It simply measures money flowing through the economy, no matter how useful or damaging it is.

The massive oil spillage around the UK Shetlands in early 1993 was clearly no great step forward for humanity, yet we are 'better off' because everything spent clearing it up will be counted as a plus.

On the other hand, the enormous contribution made by people outside the formal economic system - from housewives to carers - is totally ignored.

To base the whole of economics on such a bizarre sieve is bound to lead, as it does, to economic rules that pervert the end result.

"The assumption is that growth is good and more is better," said Paul Ekins.  "It’s as if economists have never heard of cancer."

The New Economics Foundation has worked for a number of years on developing a range of local and national 'alternative economic indicators', which track changes in social and environmental quality alongside the financial indicators.

Such indicators fit the financial economy, and the market, into a social and ecological context and provide a better compass for policy.

The picture of real wealth which emerges is one closely linked to health and freedom from fear of crime and violence.  We need other measures of success, to provide ways of measuring our progress towards our political and economic ambitions - both locally and nationally.  Any one measure will probably bend reality away from real success, so we need a 'basket' of different measurements to carefully check progress - and use them to help create real wealth.

Real wealth is inseparable from health.  It would also include, for example, freedom from crime and violence and fear.  The basket builds up to paint a picture of what we, as a community, see as our objective - our vision of a truly wealthy economy.

In this way, New Economics can broaden the range of factors included in traditional economic decisions. So changing GNP, or replacing it with new indicators, is now on its way into practice in countries like the Netherlands.

Some examples of new concepts of wealth in practice might include:

The Eldonians, Liverpool

When the community around Eldon Street in Liverpool lost their local factory and discovered that the council was planning to demolish their homes, the campaign provided them with staying power and technical skills.  These proved to be a kind of 'capital' which could be use to revitalise the area.  Fork lift truck driver Tony McGann provided the inspiration which led the community to design their own new housing estate, deselect their local Militant councillor - he was in the way of council support - and take over more than 100 acres of derelict land.  Here they were able to build more homes, a garden centre to provide skills to the neighbourhood, and set up a series of businesses including a health food warehouse and a metal workshop.

Sustainable Seattle Indicators Project, USA

How do you judge whether a city is 'sustainable'.  That was the question posed by a range of local politicians, businesspeople and community leaders in Seattle.  Seattle has a long record of partnership to improve the city, stretching back to the 1960s.  The aim of the project is to involve the public in drawing up 40 measurements for judging the city's success, which they can collect regular feedback on.  Indicators include renewable energy use, air quality, literacy rate, poverty and much else besides.

Lightmoor new community, Telford

A new self-sufficient, self-built village on the outskirts of Telford, designed and created initially by 14 families.  Their homes are designed with land and workshops attached so that they have the means to make a living.  But they did not have the resources to raise the money for the village infrastructure on the usual way.  It was their cohesion as a community that made up the 'sweat equity' - the basis on which they were leant the first 'community mortgage' in Britain.  Lightmoor villagers are now into building the second phase.

 

Work

Imagine a system where half the people are paid for their work and half are not, and where some of the most valuable jobs are paid at the lowest rate.

Well, around 26 million people in the UK do have jobs.  The remainder - and far more women than men - do work which they are not paid for, like housework, which blind old economics ignores.  Opinion surveys frequently find that most people rate teachers and nurses as doing the most important job, yet their pay lags way behind.

The system targets its rewards to the kinds of work that produce for the market and the consumer society, but it also leads to problems. It exacerbates inequality between women and men, while mass unemployment leads to widespread poverty and social stigma.

Even when they are in work, old economics can treat people as work-machines, commuting for hours every day, divided from their homes, communities and families. 

A large proportion of men are so wedded to their work that they die within 18 months of retirement.

And the system is less and less reliable.  Technological change means enormous upheavals, and the slightest recession increasingly throws people 'out of work'.

Not so very long ago, we would embark on our 'careers' with a prospect of 48 years work before us, for 48 weeks of the year for 48 hours a week.

That kind of intensity and security is a thing of the past.  It was a product of the Industrial Revolution, taking men out of the family, handing over the power over their lives to their employers, defining them by their work.

But a new system of work which holds less of a strangehold over our lives is struggling to emerge.  Many more people prefer 'ownwork', where they work for a number of different people, or just change their careers many times over.

In spite of the attention and privileges given to big corporations, it is clear that small businesses create by far the most jobs.  Other people vary the divisions between work and leisure by sharing jobs.  This kind of independence underpins New Economics. 

It is time we put aside our old work ethic and looked at the old horror of 'idleness' in new ways, so that work can provide people with choice and fulfillment, as well as the means to live.  "We need not stumble backwards into the future, casting longing glances at what used to be," wrote the management guru Charles Handy.  "We can turn round and face a changed reality.  It is, after all, a safer posture if you want to keep moving."

One way of facing the future focuses on the needs of individuals.  If we were to re-order our tax and social security systems, it would be possible to provide every man, women and child with a citizens income, paid to them as of right.

This income would provide them with a basic subsistence, leaving them free to earn more in whatever way they wanted, and as much as they wanted.  It would put them back in charge of their own work, and - since it would do away with means tests and poverty traps - it would also reduce the enormous bureaucracy.  Clearly that is just one proposal and a long-term objective. But it could be built up only gradually and would be no less desirable for that.

Another way of looking at the problem focuses on the work needs of communities.  A generation ago, the American economist J K Galbraith coined the phrase 'private affluence, public squalor': describing how much needs to be done, even in the richest societies.  This is particularly so in outer city council estates like those in Glasgow, where the economy has all but disappeared, leaving only the girocheques and the loan sharks.  We need organisations set up, not necessarily to make a profit - like a conventional business - but to straddle that gap between the need for local employment and the need for so much to be done.

Some of these include:

Strathclyde Community Business, Glasgow

It is no coincidence that Glasgow has pioneered the idea of community business with just the objective of creating companies which employ local people, instead of making a profit.  The first community business was set up in 1984, more followed providing a range of basic services - shops, decorating, arts - and within seven years it was supporting 45 community businesses in the region.  By then it had amassed a development fund of 1.5 million.

Mondragon co-operatives

The guidance of local priest Fr Jose Arizmendarreta led to five local entrepreneurs turning their stove-making business into an employee-owned co-op.  They also set up a local bank, which oversaw the expansion of a series of other linked co-ops in the town.  Now the group consists of around 120 businesses, employing 22,000 local people.  Only a handful has ever failed, and when the Basque region unemployment rose to 30 per cent in the 1980s, Mondragon's employment was maintained.

Green Belt Movement, Kenya

A massive tree-planting programme aimed at providing work and skills for the poor - mainly women - building self-sufficiency in fuel and agricultural materials.   The movement was the brainchild of Wangari Maathai, Kenya's first woman professor, and chair of the National Council of Women of Kenya.

 

Money

Money has been a means of exchange since before classical times.  It has the advantage of being precise and measurable.  You don't have to barter elephants for pots of jam.

But now, of course, the whole system is much more complicated.  The coins and notes with promises to pay remain, but they have been joined by the credit and debit cards - sending instant electronic information about purchases - the unit trusts, the futures markets, the rate of inflation and much else besides.  More often than not, transactions take place without any money actually changing hands at all.

Enormous sums sweep across the world's computer screens - $30 billion in one day during 'Black Wednesday' in 1992 when dealers forced the pound out of the European Monetary System.  That's three times more than the whole of the Bank of England's reserves.  Even governments are powerless in the face of these titanic forces.

Where has all this money come from?  The answer is that the system of compound interest: it has revolutionised the lives of the elderly by making pensions possible, but it has also redoubled and redoubled the money sloshing around the system.

Money is also behaving in a different way.  Although coins may not be changing hands, information about debt and exchange is: money is becoming a kind of information.  And just as money is information, so information - about prospects, futures and options - is money.  Fuelled by expectations, those blips on the computer screens are themselves the modern money.

This has massive implications for all our lives, because some people are excluded from information just as some - usually the same people - are excluded from money.  

It also means a financial system of whisker sensitivity.  Minor mood changes, weather alterations or political shifts can echo round the world economies instantaneously and with devastating results.  One false move, and the consequences could be catastrophic.

From the point of view of New Economics, this complex interconnected money system also starves worthwhile projects, while the capital searches for large, damaging white elephants to invest in.  It also centralises economic decisions, leaving ordinary people powerless against the forces of the system. 

And it redoubles debt.  It gives to those that have and carries on taking from those that have not.  Africa, for example, paid back $180 billion between 1983 and 1990, $40 billion more than they owed at the beginning, and still owe a similar amount today.

An estimated half a million children die every year in developing countries as a direct result of debt.  But remarkably the third world is now a minor debtor.  It makes up less than four percent of banks' outstanding portfolios. 

Tycoon Robert Maxwell owed the banks twice as much as Zimbabwe.  And one in five households in the UK are in arrears with serious financial problems.

So what can we do about it?  New Economics is looking for ways that communities can carry on with their lives, living and working with access to the necessities of life, in spite of what the world financial system is doing.  

It tries to find ways of keeping money circulating locally - where its needed - rather than being put into the bank and sent straight down the wires to London to be invested abroad.  That means that new kinds of money and currencies which support people have to be developed - and new kinds of banks.

"The communities of people who need credit have remained essentially the same - but the banks have become international banks," said Ron Gryzwinski of Chicago's revolutionary South Shore Bank.  "They can no longer relate to the neighbourhoods because the neighbourhood's needs aren't for millions of dollars."

Examples include:

Community banks, from Bangladesh to the world

Bangladeshi economics professor Mohammed Yunus set up the Grameen Bank to lend money to the poorest of the poor - enough for some hens, or the cow or rickshaw which can make them independent.   Professor Yunus had been frustrated that conventional banks had been ignoring the needs of Bangladesh's 80 per cent poor and illiterate, because they were said to be 'bad risks'.  The bank operates on foot or on motorscooters around the villages.  When its work featured for the first time in the USA - with the headline YOUR BANK JUST RUSHED PAST IN A CLOUD OF DUST - Grameen attracted the admiring attention of President Bill Clinton.  The bank has been enormously successful, with payback rates of 98 per cent - compared with 90 per cent for Western banks lending to well-off middle classes.  It has been copied all over the third world, and now in Western cities like Chicago and Birmingham.  "In future the question will not be 'are people creditworthy'," said Professor Yunus.  "But rather, 'are banks peopleworthy?'"

Exchange systems, from Vancouver to the world

The so-called LETSystem, a computerised barter system, was developed in Vancouver in 1983 - building on a previous project in 1976 - and has spread throughout the English speaking world.  There are now nearly 45 LETS barter systems in the UK.  When communities run out of cash, people can barter with their time or skills into a central bank.  In some parts of the world, whole towns - including shops and doctors - take 'green' money.  It has the advantage of being independent from the financial system, and in some countries people claiming social security are encouraged to join.  Some of the fastest growing LETSchemes are in New Zealand, which has two of the largest: the Auckland Green Dollar Exchange and the Plains Exchange and Barter System (PLEBS).  "PLEBS fulfils people's needs in a society which is rapidly running out of cash," said organiser Vicky Hyde.

Local currencies, from Worgl to the world

The mayor of the recession-hit Austrian town of Worgl began printing a local currency in 1933.  They were interest-free but lost one percent of their value every month.  As a result it was circulated much faster than the official schillings.  People paid their local taxes in advance and the work generated by the experiment dragged Worgl out of recession within a year.  But it frightened the national bank and the Supreme Court outlawed the scheme five years later.  It has since been copied in Canada and Argentina.

 

Ethics

Old economics is not particularly interested in morality. They don't like it interfering with 'legitimate' business.  Actually the links between morality and economics go back a long way. Five of the great world religions have been looking at New Economics and rediscovering what they have to say about money, debts, usury and work.

But economics, like politics, is not value-free. Its assumptions, just as its results, can be more or can be less ethical.  New economists understand that morality has a vital role to play.  We must make sure the rules of economics support our visions of how the world should be, rather than undermine them.

Free trade, for example, can mean exploitation under old economics.  For the New Economics, free trade is meaningless unless it is also fair trade - the right of equal partners to trade fairly, without unnecessary interference by governments or regulations, but also without being perverted by the greed of the powerful.

Proof if it was needed that morality is already playing its own part in the market came in 1988 with the publication of the highly-successful Green Consumer Guide by John Elkington and Julia Hailes.

It was quite clear that, free market or no free market, a large number of consumers were prepared to spend time and extra money seeking out products which did not damage the environment.  When supermarkets realised that the proportion of consumers could be anything up to 40 per cent, there was a revolution on the shelves.

Since the Guide, New Consumer and The Ethical Consumer have led the way in providing the information about products that people need to make these kind of choices.

So-called 'ethical consumerism' can only go so far by itself.  It means people can only choose the best that is on offer.  It leaves the basic structures, the bogus advertising and the fuel-consuming out-of-town supermarkets still in place.

But it is an enormously powerful lever on a frighteningly amoral financial system.  Campaigns to force Barclays to disinvest in South Africa or for the food companies to invest in 'dolphin-friendly' tuna have made their mark.

At the same time, a wave of green and ethical financial services emerged, funneling savings into investments without the taint of militarism or environmental damage, from Mercury Provident, to the Ecology Building Society and the Merlin Ecology Fund.

All of these use the existing economic system, with a range of different ends in mind, and they all involve ordinary people banding together to use their combined economic power.

Other examples where people combine to beat the system include:

Seikatsu Club, Tokyo

In 1965 a small group of Tokyo housewives, led by Fusushi Yokiko began to campaign to force local shops to stock healthier food.  They formed their own co-operative to pay for better quality milk to be brought into the city in bulk.  The club is still organised at street level, where families pay for the food they want, but numbers over 175,000 members in the Tokyo region and runs its own bakery and series of farms.  Seikatsu is the biggest consumer co-op in the world, where members work part-time from home as suppliers or sandwich-makers.  They have even managed to get members elected to local government bodies, under the slogan 'political reform from the kitchen'. 

Gonoshasthaya Kendra, Bangladesh

Or GK, set up as a People's Health Centre by Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury after the liberation war in 1972.  It expanding into education and nutrition work, then setting up employment-generating projects, while employing up to 160 paramedics trained in preventative medicine.  A decade ago they set up Gono Pharmaceuticals, with a factory employing 400, to supply essential drugs at low cost.  It now supplies 15 per cent of all Bangladesh's drugs, and at 60 per cent of their cost from multinationals - and reinvest half the profits in GK social projects.  Chowdhury has recently been coming under intense pressure from the new regime and from the Western-orientated Bangladeshi Medical Association, who want to remove him.  At the same time, the government is being pressurised to change their drugs policy by foreign drug companies.

Ashram Acres, Birmingham

The poverty-stricken Handsworth area of Birmingham has a high proportion of people from the Indian sub-continent, but relatively few outlets where they can buy the vegetables they are used to.  But they did have other resources: derelict land, expertise in growing oriental vegetables, a great deal of spare land and a small grant.  The gardens from derelict houses were turned over to growing yams and other crops, providing work for the unemployed and income for the community - which conventional business was not able to provide.

 

Endpiece

For too long the debate about economics has revolved around finding a so-called 'level playing field'.  After a century of failed centralised spending and a decade of failed trickle-down economics, we know that the level playing field doesn't exist.  It is unremittingly bumpy and unremittingly complicated, whatever the text books say.

Getting economics to work for people for a change is not about level playing fields, it is about changing rules - changing the rules of the game until we find some that work.

New Economics looks at how those rules are already beginning to change in so many different ways and places, so that people can themselves - locally, nationally and internationally - take control of the economic processes.

New Economics works on two levels.  It is busy improving the current system from within, introducing green consumerism and pricing ethics into the market.  But at the same time it is busily working out new rules and methods from outside.

Both are the inevitable responses to a failing economic system - and both are vital for the emergence of an economics that can work for people and planet, rather than against them.

Without both, the future of the planet is in doubt.  With them, we can begin to underpin a sane and humane future.

But New Economics - with a capital N and E - is more specific than that.  It carries within it sub-texts which underlie the movement.

First, it aims to heal the blindness at the heart of old economics.  Second, it looks to the powerless for solutions to our current problems.  It recognises that the West, with all its besuited economic consultants, may have a great deal to learn from the villages of the developing world or from the ancient teachings of religion.

Finally, it is about setting people free, so that the systems which run our lives stop dragging them back into the mire and starts supporting their hopes and dreams.

 

Back to top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

title: books by David Boyle
Broke Voyages of Discovery Money Matters Blondel's Song Leaves World to Darkness The Little Money Book Funny Money The Tyranny of Numbers