Do you instinctively support the principles of Wellbeing Economics, but don’t know how you can express that in your everyday life?

Over the next four months, the Grant Rule Trust is launching a  Build Back Better webinar series, which will discuss how we rebuild ourselves and our communities after the massive impact of COVID-19 on our health and wellbeing, our social cohesion and our economy.

The first two webinars are:

23rd July, 7.30 pm BST: How Is Your New Normal Looking?

Sue Rule will look at the political and economic landscape of the UK as we start to come out of lockdown, and some of the challenges and opportunities we face in the changing world, over the coming months.

27th August, 7.30 pm BST: How To Keep Going
Improving our resilience to stress and looking after our individual wellbeing.

Visit http://grantrule.org/events/ to sign up and to view past webinars, papers and slides.

The Repair Stop, a new community repair enterprise, is opening in Glasgow on 21 July. Sophie Unwin, founder and director of the Remade Network, shares her thoughts on how community repair enterprises such as The Repair Stop can provide a model on building a greener, fairer world.

As the Remade Network launches its new, collaborative community repair project in Glasgow, Katherine Trebeck’s words resonate with me:

“The economic model that has become so dominant is called all sorts of things: neoliberal, market fundamentalist, overly financialised, extractive, and toxic. What it is called doesn’t matter so much as how it has strangled our imaginations and our sense of possibility.”

We know the scale of the challenge that we face in our world is huge. Oppression, inequality, waste, and pollution are in every corner. Headed in one direction, it looks like an inevitable move to a certain dystopia – where we blindly consume and compete instead of sharing resources and showing empathy to each other.

As bad as things could get, it perhaps allows us to dream big of a better world that we would like to see. But for those of us – like me – who have reached our middle age, our hopes are inevitably tempered with a sense of realism. We have heard new ideas and slogans come and go, from sustainable development to the triple bottom line. And we know that real change can be hard won, as it speaks of shifts to the status quo.

Could a wellbeing economy offer us something new?

“As bad as things could get, it perhaps allows us to dream big of a better world that we would like to see.”

For me, building an economy based on repair skills – the work I’ve carried out over the last 12 years, which has grown from London to Edinburgh and now Glasgow – chimes closely with what the Wellbeing Economy Alliance advocates. This is a regenerative economy, one that prevents waste at its source rather than just recycling materials; a collaborative economy where we work with other community groups and Glasgow City Council; and a business model with purpose and shared values at its heart.

In January this year, we started work in earnest with five other organisations: Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Repair Café Glasgow, Glasgow Tool Library, The Pram Project, and Glasgow City Council. Meeting each fortnight, we developed a collaborative business plan, for which the City Council granted us a social enterprise start-up grant.

Then came COVID-19.

With no social contact allowed, we started meeting online and had to pivot our plans. But we also had space to share ideas, discuss our values, and reflect on what was really important to us. From April, Remade Network has grown from three members of staff to seven, and this July we open our new project – The Repair Stop.

Based at Govanhill Baths’ Deep End on Nithsdale Street in Govanhill, The Repair Stop will offer affordable repairs, priced at £5 or £10, and accept donations of unwanted laptops, phones, tablets, and prams that we will fix, redistribute, and sell on.

And, thanks to contracts with both Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government, we will be distributing 500 desktop computers to vulnerable people across the city. People like Mohamed from the Somali Association, who will ensure the computers help people find jobs, access basic services, and stay in touch with their families. And people like Elaine, a single mum whose son, Maxwell, has struggled to do his schoolwork since COVID, as they don’t have a working computer at home.

The C-40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have recently published some principles about a green recovery, and some of these speak to the project:

  • Excellent public services, public investment, and increased community resilience will form the most effective basis for the recovery
  • The recovery must address issues of equity that have been laid bare by the impact of the crisis
  • The recovery must improve the resilience of our cities and communities

Equity and resilience are so vital here. It is the people who consume the least who are most impacted by pollution and environmental problems. But it is also those people, and poorer communities, who often hold a wealth of creativity and ideas. Poorer communities are already used to being resourceful and resilient.

As the Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Moving away from extractive to regenerative economies also means valuing indigenous knowledge, the skills and ideas that are already in place when we come to start work on a new project. Without this basic attitude of respect and curiosity, how can we achieve anything meaningful?

We firmly believe that repair can help us build a better world post-COVID and help regenerate forgotten places. It values and draws on people’s skills and creativity, as each repair is different, and it creates new jobs – repairing creates 10 times as many jobs as recycling. Finally, it brings people together and helps build community. Repair is not a new idea, but it is one whose time has come.

As the Wellbeing Economy Alliance reminds us, “Humanity defines economics, not the other way around.” In many ways, this could be a motto for social enterprise as a whole – business and profit is not the end in itself, but a means to harness our core values and create a better world.

You can visit the Repair Stop at 21 Nithsdale Street in Glasgow, open 12-2pm Monday to Saturday, from 21 July, for repairs of household items and to donate unwanted and broken laptops, phones, tablets and prams. For more information, email repair@remade.network, visit www.remade.network, or follow @remadenetwork on Twitter and Facebook.

(Photography credit: Hollin Jones)

By Isabel Nuesse

This past month, I represented WEAll at an online ActionAble event on the topic of ‘Homelessness in the UK’. The webinar included two other speakers, Lisa-Marie Bowles from LB Camden and Shane Cole from Feed Up Warm Up,

Lisa-Marie spoke about current actions taking place in Camden on housing during the time of COVID. Shane reflected on his own experience with homelessness, his continued healing and inspiration for Feed Up Warm Up.

During the event, I spoke to homelessness from a wellbeing economy perspective. From this lens, homelessness should not be viewed as an individual’s personal failing, but rather as a failing of our economic system. In a wellbeing economy, human and ecological wellbeing are prioritised, and can be resolved together. For example, a wellbeing economy envisions community-owned, eco-friendly housing as a potential solution to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing, without causing harm to our environment.

Following the presentations, over 30 participants from across the UK broke into working groups to discuss concrete ways that governments, businesses, NGOs and communities could end homelessness and ensure quality housing for all. This following list of tangible policies to tackle homelessness was generated under 10 minutes.

Our main takeaway?

We already have the solutions.
Now we need to make those solutions ActionAble.

 

Government Intervention

  • Government to purchase buildings in cities that can provide social housing.
  • Put pressure on the government to disclose where the money that is supposed to support individuals experiencing homelessness, is actually being diverted to the appropriate causes.
  • Provide government and non-profit services as a package offered under a single banner, as opposed to disjointed efforts from government and non-profits. This would allow interventions to ensure there are no gaps in service.
  • Ease regulations that require individuals to have an address to access basic services.
  • Simply give people homes.
  • Require new buildings to have a certain space for social housing / reduced rent.
  • Government to commission housing specifically for those who are housing insecure.
  • Give tax relief to organisations that are willing to help secure housing for individuals in their communities.
  • Require those that have a second home to give up their space for those without housing.
  • Tax by total land owned instead of by the location or square footage of the home.
  • Signpost empty houses and allow people to sleep there.

 

Business/NGO Intervention

  • Keep emergency beds in hotels and hostels to support those who are housing insecure.
  • Target organisations and companies to share their spaces with those that are experiencing homelessness.
  • Incite collaboration amongst non-profits to holistically support those that are experiencing homelessness, as opposed to working in silos.
  • Build ‘Airbnb for the Homeless’ i.e. empty bedrooms could be shown online, and homeless individuals could ‘book a room’ for the night.

 

Community-Based Approach

  • Partner elderly folks experiencing unstable housing and loneliness, together.
  • Create a nation-wide campaign to destigmatise homelessness.
  • Build shelters in every town and community.
  • Provide specialist support for those experiencing homelessness, to ensure they are well cared for and safe.
  • Scrap the law (in the UK) that prohibits people from receiving services from outside their boroughs.

 

If you have any suggestions to add to this list, please comment on the blog below to start a conversation.

 

We’d like to continue to develop this thinking as part of our work with government bodies who are working on building back better to a wellbeing economy.

 

Alongside our entire membership, WEAll has been learning and working to deepen our understanding of systemic racism – and the ways in which we can be actively anti-racist.

We came across this resource: The Anti-Racist Educators Network which is a grassroots movement holding individuals accountable for working to combat systemic racism in their communities.

The guiding principle of the Anti-Racist Educators Network is that by addressing the bias in our education system, we can educate the next generation to create a society that is open-minded and reflective.

We agree with their statement that “education is the greatest weapon we have to change the world.”

Here you can find a list of resources that the network has curated, from a Black History Resource Bank to a list of organisations that could use our support, to a virtual library and list of book corner classics.

Learning from resources such as these is a critical first step to becoming actively anti-racist and enacting much-needed change in our communities, work environments and beyond.

Do share with us your experiences as you move through this educational process. We’d love to support your learning! For more resources on how to support anti-racism efforts, please visit our BLM page.

Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) Scotland is seeking to recruit three or four trustees from a variety of backgrounds to join our board and drive forward our work to support positive change.

You will be passionate about the need for economic system change, and you will have a good understanding of the issues facing our economy, society, and natural environment. You should be confident that you can make a valuable contribution to our work and comfortable with working at board level.

The board plays a vital role setting WEAll Scotland’s strategy, overseeing a small core team and the projects that we deliver as well as acting as ambassadors of the charity. Trustees will be appointed for an initial period of up to 3 years with potential for extension. The commitment required is a minimum of one day per quarter (attending board meeting and preparation), but we would also expect trustees to take an active role and interest in the charity beyond attending meetings – for example, by attending public events on behalf of WEAll, providing some project oversight, and taking on pieces of work for and on behalf of the board.

We are particularly looking for trustees with fundraising, organisation building, legal expertise, and governance experience.

There is no remuneration; however, all necessary travel and accommodation expenses will be reimbursed. Previous board experience is not a requirement.

We aim at all times to recruit the person who is most suited to the job and welcome applications from people of all backgrounds – men and women, people of all ages, sexual orientations, nationalities, religions and beliefs.  However, we particularly encourage applications from women, disabled, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates, as these groups are underrepresented on boards in Scotland.

If you feel you have the passion, experience, and commitment, please send a cover letter setting out why you are interested in the role and your CV to scotland@wellbeingeconomy.org

The closing date for applications is 24th July 2020.

Background:

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) is a new global collaboration of organisations, alliances, movements, and individuals working together to change the economic system to create a wellbeing economy: one that delivers human and ecological wellbeing.  At a time when a global pandemic has caused deep social, economic, and environmental shocks, many people are radically rethinking the kind of future they want. There has never been a more important time to be part of the work to build an economy that works for people and planet, internationally and here in Scotland.

Scotland is a key player in the global movement for a wellbeing economy. Across Scotland, the purpose of the economy and the dominant model of growth is being reconsidered, with pioneering projects springing up within different sectors. WEAll Scotland will connect these initiatives, amplify narratives and create a safe space for government, businesses, and society to question the current economic model and champion bold new policies.

Visit https://wellbeingeconomy.org/scotland to learn more.

Our WEAll member, the Post Growth Institute, recently shared a fantastic article on how we can reprogram our economic operating system to ensure a sustainable future – by adopting an indigenous worldview.

The United Nations estimates that indigenous territories cover approximately 20 percent of the Earth’s landmass. This 20 percent landmass stewarded by indigenous peoples amazingly contains 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.

The indigenous worldview has been marginalised for generations because it was seen as antiquated and unscientific and its ethics of respect for Mother Earth were in conflict with the Industrial worldview … But now, in this time of climate change and massive loss of biodiversity we understand that the indigenous worldview is neither unscientific nor antiquated, but is, in fact, a source of wisdom that we urgently need.

As the article explains, we can adjust or un-choose. Read about the two adjustments in our worldview that can help us work toward a more sustainable economy – and world.

This month, the UK House of Lord’s COVID-19 Committee launched its first inquiry on Life Beyond COVID. The Committee is interested in the long-term impact of the pandemic on people’s daily lives as well as on society as a whole.

In its first inquiry, the Committee is inviting people to share their hopes and fears about what the pandemic might mean in the long-term for our home and working lives, and for how we function as a society – what might it mean for social cohesion, for (in)equality, for our environment or for arts and culture?

If your organisation is interested in engaging in some direct policy impact, make a submission (including stories/ material on lived experience) to inform the Life Beyond COVID initiative.

The deadline for submissions is Monday 31 August.

If you have any questions or would like any further information, contact Alex McMillan: mcmillana@parliament.uk

By: Lisa Boll, ZOE Institute for future-fit economies

ZOE, the Institute for Sustainable Economies, is a non-profit think & do tank. Together with politics, science and civil society, ZOE develops trend-setting impulses for the fundamental questions of a sustainable economy.

COVID-19 has revealed the deep-rooted vulnerabilities of our current socio-economic system. “Business as usual” cannot guarantee sustainable prosperity on a healthy planet for all citizens. Relaunching the economy with the usual tools and policies won’t create the just transition we need.

This is a crucial moment to steer economic transformation towards structural resilience: enabling economies to be in a stronger position to absorb and recover from future shocks. It’s time to implement new policies that are fit for a just future. This means a shift away from structural dependence on the ‘growth paradigm’ and the use of GDP as the ultimate measure of success for policy decisions.

To tackle this challenge, today, the ZOE Institute has launched a new interactive website that offers a toolbox for ‘future-fit’ policymaking – which leads towards a sustainable, wellbeing economy.

Background Information: in-depth knowledge on different growth dependencies & strategies to overcome GDP-reliant economic frameworks, based on Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics.

Interactive Policy Database: The website features a state of the art, open-access policy database for sustainable prosperity, with over 200 transformative policies in the realm of employment & income, the environment, money & finance, and many more.

Users simply selected specific goals and objectives, and the interactive database displays relevant policy strategies for each topic, giving users concrete tools to work for a just and sustainable future for all.

Evidence-based Argumentation Strategy: Along with the policy database, the website features an interactive reflection game, which helps policymakers enhance arguments in favour of progressive policymaking, based on insights from scientific studies.

Visit www.sustainable-prosperity.eu to explore the vast interactive, open-access policy database and join a network of progressive thinkers across Europe.

Our member SOGH and Global Health Film are hosting a series of ‘Global Health Film Classics’ movie screenings every Sunday from July 5th to 26th! The series covers important and topical public health issues, including emerging pandemics.

This Sunday, July 5 at 7pm BST, they will screen The Islands and the Whales, which talks about ocean pollution and the impact on people’s health. After the screening, you’ll have the chance to speak to both the director and protagonist.

Here is the trailer for the series and the details for the next three films in the series.

Sunday 12 July, 7pm – My Amazing Brain: Richard’s War (brain injury)
Sunday 19 July, 7pm – Unseen Enemy (emerging pandemics)
Sunday 26 July, 7pm – I Am Breathing (ALS)

Do check them out!

On June 30 2020, WEall hosted its first meme generating workshop. In small groups, the participants used an online meme generating platform, iloveimg to create humorous images about our current economic system.

These memes are intended to capture a key piece of narrative development that is vital to disseminating messages around a new economy. WEAll’s theory of change is shown in the image below. It couples narrative and knowledge to create a powerbase that then grows the new economic system.

 

 

 

Memes have the ability to tell stories in small digestible bites that can be easily understood by a diverse audience. Online, they are used widely to bring humor to current events.

In the same way that meme’s tell stories or poke fun at current events, these memes can be used to highlight the inadequacies of our current economic systems.

WEAll prioritises this kind of storytelling, as it helps to simplify the complex nature of our work.

We are exploring hosting another y ‘meme generating’ workshop to generate a ‘Wellbeing Economy meme bank’ to share with our member network. Stay tuned!

Below are a few examples of our favorite memes that came out of the workshop today:

This week, WEAll joined Social Enterprise Scotland in a webinar: ‘Time for Change – New Economy’ on the role businesses can play in creating a Wellbeing Economy.

Three great speakers joined the session: Michael Roy (Glasgow Caledonian University), Michael Weatherhead( Wellbeing Economy Alliance) and Julie McLachlan (North Ayrshire Council).

If you missed it, you can watch the webinar recording here.

WEAll’s Michael Weatherhead covered takeaways from our Business of Wellbeing Guide, from the 19 minute to the 39 minute mark, including:

  • Analysis of the dimensions businesses need to deal with when trying to contribute to building a wellbeing economy, from leadership to accounting for impact;
  • Case studies of pioneering businesses to inspire what’s possible;
  • Expert views on how to navigate transformation;
  • A self-assessment tool to help decision makers plan their next steps.

Download the PDF guide here – or explore extracts in our dedicated Business of Wellbeing web portal.

This week, the UK’s #BuildBackBetter campaign launched its #BuildBackBetter statement. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance is proud to support the campaign, alongside over 350 other diverse organisations including civil society organisations, businesses, trade unions and academics.

Part of the launch was polling by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which found that only 6% of the British public want to go back to the same economy from before the Covid-19 crisis. Instead people want to build back stronger, greener and fairer.

The campaign calls for “a new deal that prioritises people, invests in our NHS and creates a robust, shockproof economy that is capable of tackling the climate crisis.” This includes a petition to MPs, which UK citizens can use to contact their representatives asking them to support the Build Back Better vision.

So far the launch has been featured in the Mirrorthe GuardianThe Timesthe Express and Sky. Learn more here: https://buildbackbetter.org.uk.

Join the movement by signing your name to support the #BuildBackBetter statement and sharing on social media using the hashtags #BuildBackBetter, #GreenNewDeal and #TheTimeIsNow.

In case you missed it, read WEAll’s 10 principles to Build Back Better.

By Lisa Hough-Stewart

The surge of the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder is calling the conduct of police forces into focus around the world.

What is the purpose of policing – and what should it be in a wellbeing economy? Fundamentally, policing should be about serving the communities to ensure every resident feels safe. As with so many other sectors of society, our economic and political systems tend to position policing as cleaning up or dealing with problems rather than proactively creating the type of environment where we can all thrive (check out the WEAll Old Way to New Way resource for more examples like this).

This is the principle of failure demand – and when it is culturally endemic within institutions like police forces, the worst ramifications are rampant discrimination and brutality, as we’ve seen far too often in recent years.

As communities across the US and beyond contemplate meaningful police reform, one successful case study is gaining prominence. In Camden, New Jersey, a historically violent city, Camden, New Jersey,  the police force has been rebuilt from the ground up with community cohesion and de-escalation as its priorities. According to this PBS report (watch below), “the new procedures aim to bring police into closer face-to-face interactions with the people they serve in order to foster good relationships.”

From my vantage point in Glasgow, Scotland, this case study makes me think of the success in recent years of reducing violent crime in my city by treating it holistically as a public health issue. Once the “murder capital of Europe”, the work of the Violence Reduction Unit has seen homicides and violence rates drop drastically since 2005.

The Scottish Government states upfront that it works to “tackle the causes of violence, not just the symptoms“. This is the approach to policing needed in building wellbeing economies – as set out by the Defund the Police movement in the US.

The police abolition movement has a long history, but for many it is coming to prominence only this year in light of current events in America. Fundamentally, it calls for funds and resources to be reallocated from policing in its current form to other services including public health, youth work and community support.

The example of Camden, New Jersey shows that “defunding the police” and building back better can really work. Centring wellbeing in any new police strategy has to involve a systemic approach to reform. Unless any new approach is deliberately, proactively, anti-racist the old problems are bound to continue.

 

Written by  Sandra Waddock, Boston College Carroll School of Management (cc) 2020

___________

In a powerful book published in 1986 called Images of Organisation, management scholar Gareth Morgan vividly demonstrated how the metaphors used to describe organisations shape perceptions of who these organisations are. Metaphors are one type of meme. Memes [in this case speaking of Meme’s beyond colloquial internet memes] are the basis on which the stories that we tell are built. In Morgan’s case, these stories are about organisations and indicate different perspectives about ‘how things work here’ and who ‘we’ are in that particular context.

Memes are, in the thinking of Susan Blackmore, who has written extensively about them, core units of cultures that when successful transfer readily from one person’s mind to others. Memes are ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols, metaphors, and brands that are at the heart of how we humans understand things. Memes are the units out of which we compose stories and narratives, for example, in Morgan’s case about organisations.

Memes are ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols, metaphors, and brands that are at the heart of how we humans understand things

Morgan’s book—and its different ‘stories’ about organisations—helped reshape thinking about organisations, particularly companies. In Morgan’s telling, organisations could be viewed as machines, living organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, systems in flux and transformation, and instruments of domination, among others. Each of these perspectives tells a different story about the nature, purposes, and functioning of the enterprise. Each metaphor is based on a different core meme—core idea—that shapes understanding of the organisation, is easily identifiable, and resonates as at least somewhat appropriate with many people. The perspective—the story and its related memes—strongly influences attitudes towards a given enterprise—as well as practices, attitudes, and behaviors within it.

So it is with the narratives and stories that shape our lives. Really important and foundational stories in different contexts are what anthropologists call cultural mythologies. Stories and narratives are central to any human enterprise, whether it is a business organisation or whole economies, and indeed to what makes us human. These stories are the ones that tell people in those communities what it means to be part of that community; they are the ones that most people are familiar with and that really make one culture different from others. The memes on which such cultural mythologies are built shape and form attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors.

Today, particularly in the so-called developed world, we are living under what is sometimes called a meta-narrative or meta-story. Such metanarratives are like umbrellas in that they cover numerous aspects of the culture or system. In doing so, they provide a kind of roadmap to what it means to be part of this system, culture, or community. The dominant metanarrative in the world—at least before the Covid-19 pandemic hit—is that of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the economic theory that tells us that the purpose of the corporation is to ‘maximise shareholder wealth’, that companies and economies should pursue continual and unending growth in profitability, markets, and market dominance. Neoliberalism also notes that what matters is intense competition in purportedly free markets and in a globalised world where trade is also supposed to be free. It tell us, in contrast to scientific evidence from biology, that humans are self-interested profit maximisers. It focuses whole economies on constant growth of financial wealth, often as measured in share prices on stock exchanges, rather than any other important human values.

The dominant metanarrative in the world—at least before the Covid-19 pandemic hit—is that of neoliberalism

Mantras associated with neoliberalism assert several important memes in the way of slogans. One is that ‘There is no such thing as society’, to use the words of Margaret Thatcher, one of the theory’s dominant proponents during the 1980s. The other, also from Thatcher, is TINA, the idea that ‘There is no alternative’ to capitalism, even to the extreme form of capitalism dominant in the world today. A third meme, stated by then US President Ronald Reagan involves reducing the power of government, ‘Keep government off our backs’, advocating for laissez-faire governments.

Such memes have consequences in real life. These ideas influence how companies behave—in cutthroat competitive fashion rather than more collaboratively or making decisions in the interests of short-term profitability rather than long-term strategic considerations. Companies sometimes seek ‘efficiency’ at whatever costs to workers, the natural environment, or local communities might be involved even if that means layoffs, pollution, clear cutting of forests, cruel animal husbandry practices, or other so-called “externalities”. The diminishment of governmental effectiveness since the 1980s is a direct result of these beliefs—with significant consequences that have become very apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic in some countries. Neoliberalism with its core memes is an important metanarrative—cultural mythology.

Once a myth like neoliberalism gets established, and it does so when key memes get repeated over and over by others (or replicated from mind to mind, as Susan Blackmore might say), it is very hard to change. The problem is that experts are educated in the context of field-specific paradigms that tell them how their field operates, how to do their work, and what is and is not important. Shifting paradigms—beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and expertise—requires new education, insights, and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing research.

Shifting paradigms—beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and expertise—requires new education, insights, and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing research.

The idea of creating wellbeing economies is meant to provide powerful, resonant counter-memes to today’s dominant narrative. Particularly in the context of the global pandemic now afflicting the world, the idea of wellbeing for all, where ‘all’ includes all of nature as well as well as all human beings, may well begin to resonate. Values associated with creating a wellbeing economy move away from financial wealth maximisation as the core purpose of economies towards fostering what gives life to our societies and the economies that support them, subordinating economies to the broader societies in which they operate. Some of the values associated with wellbeing economies (which might differ in different places) are, but share a common set of values (i.e., memes):

Societies and their economies are human creations that need to be designed to be: 

  • Based on relationships and connectedness to self, others, and nature.
  • Measured/evaluated by collective wellbeing without dignity violations[1] of humans or other living creatures.
  • Oriented towards life-giving/affirming design principles that recognize cyclicality, development into complexity without continual growth, and flourishing for all.
  • Recognized as human creations integrally connected to nature.

The question for WEAll and all organisations working to change our economic system, is how to bring these values—these new memes—into widespread and resonant being throughout society. What new stories can we tell? What new narratives can we develop? What are the powerful memes that will resound broadly and create activism and demand for wellbeing—not ‘wealth’ when wealth really only serves to create what the British art critic John Ruskin called call ‘illth’—the opposite of wealth, which in its original meaning has to do with wellbeing, health, and wholeness. That is the real wealth a wellbeing economy seeks.

 

For Further Reading

Blackmore, S. (2000). The meme machine. Vol. 25. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.

Blackmore, Susan. (2000). The power of memes. Scientific American, 383(4): 64-73.

Summer, Claire (2020). Telling the Story of What WEAll Need. <https://wellbeingeconomy.org/telling-the-story-of-what-we-all-need-blog-by-claire-sommer>

[1] To use the framing of Donaldson & Walsh (2015).

By Ayomide Fatunde

Ayomide Fatunde is an MIT-trained chemical engineer who was born in Lagos, Nigeria and grew up in Miami, Florida. She is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany where she’s been working for Daimler AG since November 2019 as part of their rotational leadership development program. Her projects centre on the company’s CO2 strategy and leverage the knowledge of power and energy systems that she picked up while working as an Engineering and Business Development Associate for PowerGen Renewable Energy (a leading microgrid developer) in Kenya. Ayo is also an amateur playwright, choreographer, poet, actress, and blogger. Most notably, her play ANTS, a one-act science fiction allegory of the modern-day Libyan slave crisis, was featured in a staged reading festival held in Boston in 2018. She also runs the blog toxicallyfeminine.com, where she does her best to remind woman that they are allowed to take up space while offering well researched perspectives on some of the most pressing issues of our society

WEAll is grateful to Ayo for sharing her personal perspective on current events in the US and beyond in this powerful piece.

America is tearing itself apart. It’s been doing so for decades. But it feels like 2020 will be the year it finally succeeds. Watching the news over the past few weeks has been an exercise in trauma for so many of us. I applaud those who are still actively engaging with all this, still protesting, still educating themselves, and still forcing this moment to be more than a hashtag. However, today I’d like to address the people who are doing all those things while still sharing memes like this:

 

This meme, as well as the fact that our President threatened civilians with military force, upsets me deeply. Many, including Minnesota governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Bill Barr, have said that the violence during protests was largely caused by radical leftist group ANTIFA and other professional instigators. Walz and some other Minnesota mayors recently walked back their statements as they realized that the rage they were witnessing in their state was very much homegrown. As this theory of violence fell through, many people began pointing out the inflammatory tactics of police departments who have planted undercover cops as instigators, left piles of bricks lying around to taunt demonstrators, driven through crowds of protesters, and pepper sprayed / tear gassed a number of state legislators for no apparent reason.

However, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint the source of violence in a protest, to rewind and pause at minute 42 and say: “see right there that was what started it all.” One common theory is that there is a two-way dependency of expectations. As in, when police arrive in riot gear expecting a fight, they generally get one. That or they end up looking like overzealous, trigger-happy cowards. Looking at some of the videos in this article by Slate magazine I’ve just linked, it’s easy to see how that could be the case. It’s also easy to see a reality in which the Boston Police Department would tell people to disperse and then shut down the 3 main train lines that people would have taken to get home. Purposefully fueling chaos so that they would be able to say: “See, we told you we needed to come with rubber bullets and tear gas. These people are dangerous. We didn’t overreact.”

All these things are very real, and we must all accept that they all took place. Yet, we must also contend with the fact that in many of the 140 cities in which protests erupted this past week, the violence was born out of pure black anger. A frustration born from the simple fact that racism is still alive and well, and in ways that are so much less in our face than police brutality. It’s always so amusing to me when young white liberals look at me in shock when I say that. But the fact of the matter is that many American cities and schools are now more segregated than they were in the 1960s. Mass incarceration means that one in thirteen African Americans were disenfranchised during the 2016 elections. And the racial wealth gap has literally been consistently gigantic for the past 50 years. (If you get stopped by the Washington Post paywall in that last link, you can also check out this episode, free on Youtube, of the Netflix show Explained.)

And once we’re all on the same page about this very righteous anger, we must then also contend with the fact that violence is a tool.

It is naive to buy into the narrative that the American Civil Rights Movement was successful because it was nonviolent. This manufactured view is the product of the way our textbooks and museums portray black rioting and militancy as counterproductive to the movement, when in fact it can be argued that there was a certain level of codependence between violence and nonviolence during the 1960s.

Prior to the spring/summer of 1963, JFK was mostly silent on the issue of civil rights. He didn’t have the political capital to alienate Southern Congressmen and still push through his New Frontier domestic policies. MLK literally sent him letters expressing how disappointed he was in the Kennedy administration. Then, Birmingham happened, and the world watched as dogs and firehoses mutilated schoolchildren. The headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were bombed. A 14-year old boy in Chicago was shot by the police. A sit-in in North Carolina was overrun by a thousand angry white people. And black people got aaangggryyy. “All of sudden”, almost every major American city was engulfed in riots. Maryland was under martial law. The peaceful protests that had been going on since the Brown v. Board ruling in 1954 became decidedly not peaceful.

It was then, and only then, that John F. Kennedy delivered his Report to the American People on Civil Rights. This speech became the foundation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the cornerstone of Kennedy’s legacy as a key force in the movement. It was the first time white America heard one of their leaders admonish racism as morally wrong. And it happened BECAUSE, not in spite, of the rising tide of violence in the nation. His administration did not want America to be seen internationally as the country that would let itself burn to the ground before granting rights to people who had been begging for it for generations.

I say all this because it seems that we, as a collective society, have forgotten. We’ve forgotten that protests transact in the currency of attention. Forgotten that civil rights leaders chose to focus on Birmingham because they viewed Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor as one of the most violent police chiefs in the nation. In an interview with the New Yorker, Omar Wasow, a professor of politics at Princeton, discusses this strategy of gaining sympathetic press by positioning nonviolence against the backdrop of state-sanctioned hyperviolence.

A similar narrative played out in South Africa during the Soweto uprising of 1976. The world watched as hundreds of school children were slaughtered by police simply for wanting to use their indigenous languages in schools, as opposed to Afrikaans (the language of their oppressors). The following year the UN Resolution that passed in 1963 and asked all states to cease the sale and shipment of all ammunition and military vehicles to South Africa was finally made mandatory. Yes, it took 14 years. But the spectacle of peaceful black bodies being mutilated by militarized white forces finally made the international community care.

The goal of any protest is to garner media attention on a mass scale because protests that do not gain attention, generally, do not achieve anything. Thus, we have to ask ourselves: would this moment in America be receiving all the attention it is receiving if the past week had seen only peaceful demonstrations?

I don’t really have an answer to that question. But I do think it’s important to firmly distinguish between types of violence. The instances in Birmingham and Soweto largely collected sympathy from the majority because protestors were the object of violence. When protesters are the perpetrators of violence, they are using the currency of fear for attention. And, well, if unarmed dead black boys have taught us anything at all, it is that white fear is powerful.

I see a lot of people saying: “hey, look, if we’re violent we’re going to alienate the people who are sympathetic to our cause.” But please ask yourself, what has their sympathy brought us? And if this is all it took to alienate them, were they ever truly allied with our cause? On a recent episode of the NYTimes podcast The Daily, my queen Nikole Hannah-Jones added this really poignant statement to the conversation:

“Black people have protested peacefully and black people have burned it down. And in the end the cycle of police violence remains largely unchanged”

So please, please, get off your high horse if you are someone judging others for wanting to transact in fear instead of sympathy.

Every once in a while, I google “Hong Kong protests” just to see if they are still going on. They are… but they are very much no longer a part of our regular news cycle. I think often about the militancy and urgency of this movement. The protective gear and riot training each protester receives. Most importantly, I think about their principle of 不割席 (“do not split”). This expression represents their commitment to never obstruct the tactics of fellow protestors, even if they disagree with these tactics. This obviously comes most into play with the question of violence. While “moderate” protesters have boycotted pro-Beijing shops, more “radical” activists have vandalized and/or burned down these shops. There are hunger strikes as well as petrol bombs. I put moderate and radical in quotes here because I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this distinction is silly.

The idea that there are good protesters and bad protesters is a false moral equivalency that leans heavily on respectability politics and says, “if you would only ask nicely, then…” Protesting is an act of civil disobedience, and we have long defined disobedience as something that is bad. That badness is the point. Trevor Noah echoes this sentiment in a recent video he posted on facebook. Protesting is meant to signal that citizens no longer feel obliged to obey the civil contract because the civil society has failed them.

That is why I find the denouncement of the looters in this week’s protests rather interesting. Like, yes, there are people taking advantage. There are people using this as an opportunity to redecorate their homes and people operating purely from greed. There are people callously attacking small businesses with minimal insurance schemes and those people make me very sad. And there was a moment earlier in June when it did seem like these people represented the majority of looters. However, looting, in and of itself, is a magnificent form of protest. In 2014, when we were all in the middle of the Ferguson protests and riots, Vicky Osterweil penned this brilliant piece called In Defense of Looting where she explains how looting reveals that “the idea of private property is just that: an idea”. She also adds that while looters simply reduce some profit margins, the shareholders of companies like Target “steal forty hours every week from thousands of employees who in return get the privilege of not dying for another seven days.”

Now, I don’t have the time or energy to turn this post into a giant critique of capitalism, but if you’re interested in diving further Jacobin Magazine would be a great place to start. The main gist is our system currently values property over human life.

But aside from capitalism just being kind of gross, there is also just the new rallying cry of: to be black in America is to be constantly looted. I can’t attribute this to a specific source because I don’t know who said it first but it’s worth repeating. It’s also worth repeating Osterweil’s quote that “the specter of slaves freeing themselves could be seen as American history’s first image of black looters.” Like, can we all just sit with that for a second? I really need everyone to internalize the fact that for so long the black identity was not one of personhood, but rather one of property. So when the president comes to the defense of property and law-and-order much quicker than he ever came to the defense of our lives, when we watch tanks roll through our streets while healthcare workers wear trash bags as DIY personal protective equipment, it feels like a slap in the face — an insult of the highest order.

To be black in America is to be constantly looted

The last time I posted on social media about police brutality, it was 2014. It was my first semester of university, we’d lost Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford… and my little brother had just turned 5 years old. I wondered then which birthday would mark his rite of passage into a bonafide black American threat.

And so this year, when cries of “I can’t breathe” started ringing again, I was brought right back to this trauma. I cried non-judiciously at various points during the last week. All the studies and histories and academic vitriol that I’ve filled this essay with only serve to help me impersonalize something that is so viscerally personal.

That same something filled me with a deep sense of joy when I saw the video of the Minneapolis Police Department burning to the ground last week. I sat there and thought, “Yes. Finally. Burn it ALL down.” And I’m not ashamed of that. And listen, I am not saying that I have a hit-for-hire ad out for all cops. I’m not saying that your father, who is a police officer, is a bad person. There is a very important distinction to be made between anger at a system and anger at the individuals that comprise that system.

When people say “F**K THE POLICE” or “Defund the police”, what they are really saying is “I have never felt protected by the police, only persecuted”. They are trying to remind America that there was once a time when Northern police officers would join white mobs to attack black families trying to move into white neighborhoods. Remind us that there was once a time in the South when Ku Klux Klan members were indistinguishable from law enforcement. And that this history has created a system whereby police patrol predominantly black neighborhoods waiting for a crime to happen, while “serving” white communities. I urge you to watch John Oliver’s most recent episode of Last Week Tonight where he explains how police forces were created as a way to keep firm control over post-abolition black lives (seriously, if you’re in a rush for time and can only look into one of the many links in this essay, I heavily recommend starting with this John Oliver video since he also directly explains what defunding the police would look like in our cities). We got here “on purpose” and this story by Nikole Hannah-Jones is a great example of what it looks like for even the most law-abiding of black citizens to be socialized to not trust the police. But also, (if they are willing and able to relive their trauma) you should speak to your black and brown friends about the personal discrimination they have faced at the hands of the police.

When people say “F**K THE POLICE” or “Defund the Police”, what they are really saying is “I have never felt protected by the police, only persecuted”.

In my mind, the police burned our communities down long before we ever even touched their station with a match. And when I say burned, I mean that literally. I mean Tulsa and the destruction in 1921 of Black Wall Street and the massacre of 300 black people who were minding their business and literally just trying to achieve the American dream. This story, though often swept under the rug by American historians, is imprinted on my brain. So, I’m not ashamed of my glee. But I am scared about what this says about the depth of hopelessness that I feel.

There’s this interview with Nina Simone where she’s asked what freedom means to her. It was 1968, MLK had just died, and Nina was touring the country singing I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, one of many songs she wrote for the civil rights movement. She takes a while to answer but eventually she says it means to be without fear.

And I keep asking myself, what do we have to do to create a world in which black people finally live without fear? We had this very same conversation in 2015, and again in 1992 with the Rodney King riots, and in 1965, and in 1943… I’m feeling powerless and a part of me just wants to watch the world burn. And I think that’s how a lot of people are feeling. Because a lot of people just want to live, for once, without fear. But they can’t. So now, they’ve become agents of fear. I’m not going to condemn them for that. And I don’t think you should either.

So, I hope the protests go on for weeks. And also stay in the international spotlight for weeks. But more importantly, I hope that non-black America takes a hard look at itself and figures out what to do about this disease called hate. I hope they fear our anger while also sympathizing with our cause. I hope people stay in the streets until Chauvin’s charge is changed to first degree instead of second degree murder. I’m glad to see that the other three officers have been charged but I’m still waiting for the arrest of Breonna Taylor’s murderer. It was cute when some cops took a knee with protesters but I want to see police units nationwide march with us in solidarity and not just for the photo op.

I want to see citizen arrest and stop-and-frisk policies revoked. I want all police departments to be demilitarized. I want all police union contracts renegotiated for increased accountability. And I want education investment to increase in our neighborhoods that have been labeled “high crime”. It’s amazing to see the Minneapolis City Council already make great strides in this direction. They have committed to dismantling the city’s police department and working towards community-led public safety. But frankly, it’s not enough.

I want America to spend weeks thinking about its centuries of looting the black body. Because the thing is, any system that perpetuates fear is violence and black American life is drenched in violence. Generational poverty is violence. Living paycheck to paycheck is violence. Stop and frisk is violence. Respectability politics are violence. The prison industrial complex is violence. Under-insurance is violence. Racial profiling is violence. Housing discrimination is violence.

We need legislative change AND a national moral reckoning. So, I’ll close with this quote from Toni Morrison (may she rest in peace).

“If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. It is my feeling that white people have a very very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it.”

—–

If you’re looking for ways to help and places to donate, this google sheet is a great resource. And this one has some great introductory material on racial discourse. And this article by Variety magazine lists some social media accounts with fantastic anti-racist content.

By Denisha Killoh, WEAll Scotland

This piece was originally published by The Herald on 9 June 2020

The barbaric murder of George Floyd has sparked a surge in global outrage at the violence and racism people of colour are forced to endure. What began as an aversion to an untimely death has rapidly spread to become a mass movement across country boundaries.

As the whole world navigates the repercussions of a pandemic together, the sense of community amongst local citizens has been invigorated. The extrajudicial killing of George Floyd has contextual significance as citizens everywhere are beginning to scrutinise their own establishments to demand a systemic revolution.

This fight against the injustice inflicted on black communities resonates deeply with me as a woman of colour in Glasgow. My family emigrated to Scotland as part of the ‘Windrush generation’. At first the diversity this generation of immigrants brought was celebrated as their talents were deployed to fill the shortages in the post-war labour market. People of colour played a crucial role in reviving the British economy and restoring harmony to society. Yet, the 2018 Windrush scandal unearthed rife systemic racism. The introduction of the UK government’s hostile environment policy led to an abundance of BAME British citizens being wrongly deported disregarding their lifelong contribution to society.

I spoke to family members living in Scotland and a friend who lives in England about their direct experiences of racism. Although there is a generation gap, they voiced harrowingly similar stories about the impact of racism on their aspirations and self-esteem.

My friend told me that for as long as she can remember, she’s felt inferior due to her race. She spoke of repeatedly suffering at the hands of strangers who hold negative views towards “people like her” stating, “my whole life people have said to me that as a black woman, I have to work twice as hard as my white friends just to show I have the same abilities”.

One of my family members spoke of a time where she had been made to feel unwelcome at work. A colleague said to her, “you come here to take our jobs and what’s worse is that you are black”. They discussed the constant struggle to be heard and respected because of the inherent assumption that they were “dumb and incapable” due to their skin colour.

The world faces an ultimatum; we can either #BuildBackBetter or go #BacktoWorse in the recovery from COVID-19. The pandemic and the symbolic case of George Floyd have revealed how entrenched our current systems are with inequality as they breed injustice and exist in conflict with the interests of BAME communities.

We have the opportunity to create wellbeing economies that prioritise long-term human health and ecological sustainability. It’s no coincidence that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is gaining such momentum in the wake of the pandemic: it is a unique moment to ensure that those who have historically been marginalised can have a leading role in rebuilding our economy and wider society.

In repurposing our systems to have compassion at their core, we must proactively confront systemic racism by radically transforming institutional practice to be in service of black lives, not at war with them.

I’d like to thank my Grandma Carmina and my friend Marta for bravely sharing their invaluable experiences of systemic racism. The way in which they have maintained their determination and strength in spite of lifelong discrimination is my biggest inspiration.

We must #SayTheirNames and honour the legacy of those taken from us too soon and create a world that is radically different, truly valuing black life.

Ahmaud Arbery

Belly Mujinga

Breonna Taylor

Eric Garner

George Floyd

Mark Duggan

Michael Brown

Rashan Charles

Sandra Bland

Sarah Reed

Sheku Bayoh

Shukri Abdi

Stephen Lawrence

Tamir Rice

Trayvon Martin

 

Header image: Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

Lois Cameron was one of over 200 people who attended a recent joint event organised by the RSA and WEAll, where Katherine Trebeck and Jamie Cooke were in conversation about what it will take to Build Back Better and create wellbeing economies. You can watch their discussion here.

Lois was so inspired by what she heard that she was moved to write this beautiful poem:

Build Back Better  

 

Our nation’s success is measured in GDP

Care, kindness, love do they appear?

Why don’t we count things important to me?

 

Time to shop local and be neighbourly

To slow down, connect , bring others cheer

Our nation’s success is measured in GDP

 

Making money is not all it’s cracked up to be

People feel redundant as they lose their career

Why don’t we count things important to me?

 

Can you see the butterflies, hear the bees?

Listen to clean water tumble over the weir

Our nation’s success is measured in GDP

 

The change will be hard for all to agree

But to ‘build back better’ we need to be clear

Why don’t we count things important to me?

 

Changing what matters is going to be key

In this woman lead, make sure you hear

Our nation’s success is measured in GDP

Why don’t we count things important to me?

 

May 2020     Lois Cameron

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text] By Katherine Trebeck (WEAll) and Peter Kelly (The Poverty Alliance)

First published by Bella Caledonia

 

 

This year started with masks and it is likely to end with masks.

As Scottish people woke up on Hogmanay morning, Australians were going to bed to the latest news of the bushfires spreading across the east coast of the country, taking people’s homes, wildlife and acres and acres of native vegetation with them.

In Australia’s capital city, Canberra, the rolling hills surrounding it meant smoke from nearby blazes settled in the city streets, endangering the lungs of locals. Many went out to buy masks and the ones of apparently high enough spec to filter out the carcinogenetic particles quickly sold out.

And now multiple governments are telling their citizens that wearing masks is part of the steps they need to take to control the transmission of covid-19, part of the so-called ‘new normal’ we’re all going to have to fall into step with.

And as lockdown measures are slowly, hesitantly wound back, attention is being turned to how economies can recover from one of the biggest kicks in the guts it is possible to imagine: workers and customers being told to stay home.

The stakes are high – people have lost jobs, businesses are no longer viable, and personal and government debts have stacked up. Emergency measures cannot continue indefinitely – in due course the direction is going to have to be set for the post-covid economy.

What covid-19 revealed was that the economy of pre-covid days was one that stood on the shoulders of an army of low paid workers eking out a livelihood in very precarious work. The early stages of lockdown revealed that what kept communities ticking over was the foundational economy, local supply chains, and the generosity and kindness of neighbours helping each other get by.

What will ensure Scotland builds back better? Certainly not reverting business as usual – in fact, that will be impossible, what is more likely is a more toxic economic model than the one of pre-covid days. So instead, what is necessary is a proactive, concerted effort to use all the levers the Scottish government has to create a wellbeing economy: one that delivers social justice on a healthy planet.

Scotland has already created of the mechanisms that can enable this – they’ve just been underutilised. Now is the time to breathe life into them, doubling down on the timid steps already being taken rather than ditching them with a misplaced deference to old way of doing things which didn’t require too much prodding to be revealed as inadequate.

Here are some examples:

  • Conditionality needs to be the name of the game in government support for businesses. Some businesses merit public funds because they are the sort of enterprises that can play a part in building a wellbeing economy. Some won’t and thus don’t. No business that is unable to demonstrate its relevance to the wellbeing economy agenda should be in line for public funds. But in making that real, fortunately the Scottish Government has a Business Pledge, sitting on the shelf quietly that could be bolstered and used as a lens through which to evaluate the requests for help. The work of Scottish Enterprise constitutes another nascent move that needs more oomph: nurturing more inclusive business models into existence and the 2019 shift in strategy to making ‘job-related grants contingent on fair work practices, including job security and payment of the real living wage’.
    *
  • But in contrast to businesses, all people merit public support when the chips are down. So reskilling is needed to help people reposition themselves in a profoundly changed economic landscape. But not just reskilling but providing a backstop so people don’t slip too far as they step into the new reality, via robust social protection. Making permanent the improved resources made available through the Scottish Welfare Fund would be positive, but significantly increasing Child Benefit using Scotland’s scope to top up reserved benefits would provide the cushion that many families have been lacking in recent weeks.
    *
  • Communities know what needs to be done: how their localities need to change and what sort of economy will be in service of that. So perhaps the best role of a post-covid state is to underwrite community-led solutions? Again, there are the glimmers of existing practice to build on – not least in the form of the Climate Challenge Fund. Ramping up such initiatives will ensure the activities that emerge as lockdown is lifted are those aligned with sustainability and community need.
    *
  • Jobs themselves need to be redesigned – to deliver decent pay (it beggars belief that two in five care workers did not earn the real Living Wage as the corona crisis set in) and to distribute the available paid work more fairly across people who want it. The Scottish Government can encourage this through support for those firms that embrace employing more people rather than working fewer staff harder. For example, business rates could be recalibrated, subsidies and procurement could be better aligned with certain business practices, and basic bread and butter encouragement of necessary practices all matter.
    *
  • Covid-19 and the economic disruption it has brought is no reason to put dealing with environmental breakdown on the backburner – in fact, it makes the need even more stark if the likes of Covid-32 and Covid-97 are to be kept at bay. Again, Scotland has the beginnings to build on: ambitious climate targets and the work of the Just Transition Commission to map a way to support communities while powering down those industries incompatible with a low carbon economy. The very existence of Zero Waste Scotland is something to celebrate – a post-covid economy needs to be a circular one. The just transition agenda needs to be at the heart of economic and social policy making as Scotland seeks ways to move into a new economic era without people being left on the wayside.
    *
  • Other mechanisms that offer the means to bring about the sort of changes needed, were they just to be drawn on with more vigour, include the Sustainable Procurement duty, the Community Empowerment Act, and the community wealth building efforts. Community wealth building in particular, when combined with the efforts to bolster the population of inclusive business models flagged above, constitutes an important way to ‘get the economy to do more of the heavy lifting’ – or predistribute – resources in a way that is fairer than current circumstances allow.
    *
  • The Citizens Assemblies – for example on Scotland’s future and on climate change – are examples of the sort of robust, deliberative mechanisms to distil and develop the views of people in Scotland. With the First Minister talking of having an ‘adult conversation’ about responding to covid-19, the test will be the extent to which they feed into policy decisions and become a core part of decision making strategy.

The goal of a wellbeing economy has been set in the National Performance Framework, the creation of WEGo, the First Minister’s TED talk, and the rhetoric about the February budget being a wellbeing budget (a dubious claim, but the sentiment counts for something).

If the NPF can be used more concertedly to guide the objectives of policy making and accountability of policy making, then the economy coming out of covid will begin to be one that could be described as a wellbeing economy.

If the learnings from others can be harnessed via WEGo and if the bold statements in the First Minister’s TED talk create space for civil servants wanting to be part of the transformation necessary, then the economy coming out of covid will begin to be one that could be described as a wellbeing economy.

And if next year’s budget truly is a wellbeing budget – featuring long term goals, cross-departmental collaboration, with an outcome focus and attending to root causes of wellbeing deficits – then the economy coming out of covid will begin to be one that could be described as a wellbeing economy.

And that brings us to the task force set up to guide the government on economic recovery post-covid. Others have raised an eyebrow at its composition and lack of unusual suspects (and, dare we point out, the lack of expertise on addressing poverty and ways to bolster Scotland’s renewable sector, let alone an economic system change expert). This is surely an own-goal – diversity will enable better ideas. But not wanting to judge it prematurely, its merit will depend on the extent to which it discards outdated recipes, recognises the dual goals of social justice and sustainability and that the best initiatives deliver on both fronts to deliver collective wellbeing for current and future generations.

Scotland has the talk and the templates for building a wellbeing economy. There are tentative moves in the direction of what is necessary. Now is not the time to turn away from them. Now is the time to breathe life into them, roll them out, scale them out and up in order to build back better.

Katherine photo credit: Martin Oetting

Peter photo credit: Maverick photo agency[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

By Aima Ahmed

People are the economy, so let’s put them at its heart

Increasing the wellbeing of people is a more worthwhile goal to pursue than economic growth. To truly move towards a wellbeing economy, we need to fundamentally change the way we think about people and the economy.

We live in a fast-paced, interconnected and sophisticated era with information available in real time at our fingertips, access to markets unbounded by geography and technology that has exponentially improved our lives.

This is the peak of civilisation and the productivity puzzle is indicative of that- we just don’t know what more to do to increase economic growth, so in a way, this is a success.

And yet the virus has brought everything to a halt and frenzy. Something that isn’t even visible to the eye has forced us to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus.

It looks like the universe is trying to humble us and make us question our illusion of strength and blind reliance on current capitalist systems that increase inequality at unprecedented rates. Or maybe it’s just a reminder of the national and global socioeconomic inequalities that have exacerbated the way that people are able to cope with the consequences of the virus.

Why worry about the economy when people are dying?

Amidst this health crisis, people are worried about the economy and what its downturn means for them- it’s not an unfounded fear as interest rates are lower than they’ve been for a while (fiscal stimulus that predicts less public spending which is what happens during a recession), small businesses are at the brink of collapse (or have already) and a staggering number of people have applied for welfare in the UK compounded by the perils of being an indebted nation borrowing to consume.

So, fears of economic prospects aren’t much different in principal from fears of the pandemic effecting the health and wellbeing of people.

This is the case particularly for the socio-economically marginalised such as people belonging to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, women and those that live in poverty as these are the people that are already disadvantaged by health, housing and labour market inequalities. Striking evidence of the disproportionate impact on BAME communities has called for the government in the UK to launch a review to investigate, which is welcome but it’s a shame that these inequalities have gotten to this point in the first place.

In developing countries, there is fear that hunger fuelled by poverty will cause further deaths as a result of social distancing and lockdown for example in Pakistan where the Prime Minister has called for support from global leaders to create a fiscal response.

This pandemic has brought the dark side of free markets to the forefront.

Now that the economy wheel has nearly stopped turning, we can see who actually keeps it moving- it’s the underpaid and undervalued ‘key workers’ that hold up society, not the workers in the finance sector that make up a greater proportion of GDP than the value they give to society.

This is the problem that emerges when we lose sight of what is important — in this case we’ve become obsessed with economic growth when we should be more focused on creating an economy that increases wellbeing.  After all, economic growth should only be seen as a means to achieve wellbeing. There has been an improvement in measuring wellbeing, but GDP is still the dominant measure of success, which can be misleading.

This misguided obsession has got us thinking of the economy as separate from people.

Now that austerity has been shamed and we know that Thatcherism was driven more by ideology than good economics, it’s time to shift the narrative from economic growth to an economy centred around the wellbeing of people as argued by Nobel prize winning economists Banerjee and Duflo in their book Good Economics for Hard Times.

We should aim for a wellbeing economy, no matter how messy and uncomfortable, as supported by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. The Alliance defines it as an economy where ‘humanity should determine economics, not the other way around’ and calls for the economy to deliver ‘an equitable distribution of wealth, health and wellbeing, while protecting the planet’s resources for future generation and other species.’

Economic growth may have been a good short-term goal post war in terms of rebuilding damaged economies, but times are different now and goals should evolve and follow Iceland, Scotland and New Zealand in creating a wellbeing economy.

The economy is the people.

It is the doctors and nurses on the frontline, it is the delivery drivers that distribute resources to where they are needed (more tangible than the invisible hand), it is the teachers that educate the next generation and it is the carers that provide childcare and elderly care.

But thanking these people is not enough, we need to do right by people by paying people for their work in proportion to the value that they add in society and in doing so, acknowledging how much good they do for our wellbeing.

The economy is also the people who are not key workers and are sitting at home unable to work given the lockdown, likely causing an inevitable contraction in GDP to stop the spread of the virus – so, we can see clearly than ever before that the economy is the people and that population health cannot and should not be separated from that.

The economy is also global.

Global inequalities mean that developing countries are more likely to suffer the consequences of this pandemic, even though the epicentre of the outbreak is the developed world. According to Oxfam, ‘More than half a billion more people could be pushed into poverty unless urgent action is taken to bail out poor countries affected by the economic fallout from the Covid19 pandemic’.

This pandemic has revealed that we are interdependent as countries and institutions have come together to help each other mitigate the effects of this pandemic, which started in just one corner of the world.

The Home Office extending visas for medical staff  is an example that we as a human race are dependent on one another and that when one faction of society suffers, we all suffer.

Given the interconnection and interdependency, it is in the interest of the wellbeing of nations to work together to solve problems and this should not be forgotten when it is time to deal with the aftermath of this pandemic.

Now really isn’t the time for nationalistic responses to this global economic downturn, especially in terms of the support that poorer nations receive — global solidarity is needed to solve global problems. 

So, let this be a time of thinking and rethinking, learning and unlearning, designing and redesigning a society using economics that puts people at its heart.

An increased government role isn’t a bad thing, in fact it may be government failure to leave market forces to self-regulate through capitalism.

Current economic models facilitate inequality in ways that aren’t questioned enough in the mainstream. Government policy can build back better and nudge things in a better direction, one that includes people and questions the distribution of wealth and power through market forces, no matter how normalised they’ve become.

Build back better by calling greed what it is.

Financial services have been evolving over the decades and centuries with a profit maximising objective. A study shows, for example, that having a mortgage wasn’t always aspirational — it was seen as hanging a millstone around your neck with the debt being seen as a burden, regardless of the lifestyle that it facilitated.

The finance sector has facilitated private debt to sustain consumption even more today for example with car leasing and pay-day loans with interest rates that only feed the accumulation model of wealth generation.

Sure, this is a consumerism problem too. But making financial services more responsible through government intervention and rethinking the role of interest in the economy is a start to protecting people from the glorification of debt.

Build back better by adopting human centric business models.

Big businesses are talking more about social responsibility but according to Mariana Mazzucato, little seems to be changing in reality where only few companies put social responsibility at the core of the way they function.

Tick box exercises are not enough. Fundamental changes are needed in business models that aren’t afraid of an anti-accumulation of capital philosophy of business and an increased involvement of workers at every level.

Greater government control may actually be the answer, after all, corporate greed can’t be curtailed by mere good will.

Build back better by creating better narratives.

Underlining the failings of capitalism are the surrounding narratives that keep leaving people behind. For example, it is a government failure that people keep falling through the cracks of welfare so we should stop blaming people for being stuck in the poverty trap designed by giving too much power to market forces and arguably the welfare system itself.

A move towards a wellbeing economy should involve exploring a Universal Basic Income as is being done in Scotland. A study by the RSA shows that people receiving welfare are likely to benefit from a Basic Income by enabling them to have more power over their lives and to build a better and more self-reliant future for themselves.

Build back better globally, with compassion, responsibility and humility.

In the spirit of creating a wellbeing economy that puts people at its heart, there is hope that the fear, desperation and anxiety caused by this pandemic will make people understand what it’s like to live with economic insecurity, lack of opportunities and a constant feeling of uncertainty.

It is paramount to build back better through policy and narratives that are more compassionate towards refugees and economic migrants by acknowledging that people do not leave what they know for uncertainty without sufficient cause, desperation and hope of a better future in terms of wellbeing and finances.

If compassion is not enough to build back better globally then I hope that the studies that show that history matters in that countries are still suffering economic and political consequences of post-colonialism make a case for exercising humility in the global policy sphere along with the failing of the IMF.

So, let’s build back better by mitigating the socio-economic consequences of history in the face of colonial amnesia.

Capitalism can do better.

What does it really mean to reach the peak of civilisation when haven’t paid enough attention to how such progress for the few has left so many behind? And what are we building the economy for if it’s not for the people that actually make up the economy in the first place?

This pandemic is a chance for us to revaluate capitalism and rebuild a more inclusive world where we channel energy towards collaboration, socialism and understanding.

Let’s build back better.

 

 

 

By Dirk Philipsen

Adam Smith had an elegant idea when addressing the notorious difficulty that humans face in trying to be smart, efficient and moral. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he maintained that the baker bakes bread not out of benevolence, but out of self-interest. No doubt, public benefits can result when people pursue what comes easiest: self-interest.

And yet: the logic of private interest – the notion that we should just ‘let the market handle it’ – has serious limitations. Particularly in the United States, the lack of an effective health and social policy in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the contradictions into high relief.

Around the world, the free market rewards competing, positioning and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. Empathy, solidarity or concern for the public good are relegated to the family, houses of worship or activism. Meanwhile, the market and private gain don’t account for social stability, health or happiness. As a result, from Cape Town to Washington, the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere – public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment – in favour of private gain.

COVID-19 reveals a further irrational component: the people who do essential work – taking care of the sick; picking up our garbage; bringing us food; guaranteeing that we have access to water, electricity and WiFi – are often the very people who earn the least, without benefits or secure contracts. On the other hand, those who often have few identifiably useful skills – the pontificators and chief elbowing officers – continue to be the winners. Think about it: what’s the harm if the executive suites of private equity, corporate law and marketing firms closed down during quarantine? Unless your stock portfolio directly profits from their activities, the answer is likely: none. But it is those people who make millions – sometimes as much in an hour as healthcare workers or delivery personnel make in an entire year.

Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing.

Many have pointed out the immorality of our system of greed and self-centred gain, its inefficiency, its cruelty, its shortsightedness and its danger to planet and people. But, above all, the logic of self-interest is superficial in that it fails to recognise the obvious: every private accomplishment is possible only on the basis of a thriving commons – a stable society and a healthy environment. How did I become a professor at an elite university? Some wit and hard work, one hopes. But mostly I credit my choice of good parents; being born at the right time and the right place; excellent public schools; fresh air, good food, fabulous friends; lots of people who continuously and reliably provide all the things that I can’t: healthcare, sanitation, electricity, free access to quality information. And, of course, as the scholar Robert H Frank at Cornell University so clearly demonstrated in his 2016 book on the myth of the meritocracy: pure and simple luck.

Commenting on how we track performance in modern economies – counting output not outcome, quantity not quality, prices not possibilities – the US senator Robert F Kennedy said in 1968 that we measure ‘everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile’. His larger point: freedom, happiness, resilience – all are premised on a healthy public. They rely on our collective ability to benefit from things such as clean air, free speech, good public education. In short: we all rely on a healthy commons. And yet, the world’s most powerful metric, gross domestic product (GDP), counts none of it.

The term ‘commons’ came into widespread use, and is still studied by most college students today, thanks to an essay by a previously little-known American academic, Garrett Hardin, called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968). His basic claim: common property such as public land or waterways will be spoiled if left to the use of individuals motivated by self-interest. One problem with his theory, as he later admitted himself: it was mostly wrong.

Our real problem, instead, might be called ‘the tragedy of the private’. From dust bowls in the 1930s to the escalating climate crisis today, from online misinformation to a failing public health infrastructure, it is the insatiable private that often despoils the common goods necessary for our collective survival and prosperity. Who, in this system based on the private, holds accountable the fossil fuel industry for pushing us to the brink of extinction? What happens to the land and mountaintops and oceans forever ravaged by violent extraction for private gain? What will we do when private wealth has finally destroyed our democracy?

The privately controlled corporate market has, in the precise words of the late economics writer Jonathan Rowe, ‘a fatal character flaw – namely, an incapacity to stop growing. No matter how much it grew yesterday it must continue to do so tomorrow, and then some; or else the machinery will collapse.’

To top off the items we rarely discuss: without massive public assistance, late-stage extractive capitalism, turbocharged by private interest and greed, would long be dead. The narrow kind of macroeconomic thinking currently dominating the halls of government and academia invokes a simpleminded teenager who variously berates and denounces his parents, only to come home, time and again, when he is out of ideas, money or support. Boeing, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Exxon – all would be bust without public bailouts and tax breaks and subsidies. Every time the private system works itself into a crisis, public funds bail it out – in the current crisis, to the tune of trillions of dollars. As others have noted, for more than a century, it’s a clever machine that privatises gains and socialises costs.

When private companies are back up and running, they don’t hold themselves accountable to the public who rescued them. As witnessed by activities since the 2008 bailouts at Wells Fargo, American Airlines and AIG, companies that have been rescued often go right back to milking the public.

By focusing on private market exchanges at the expense of the social good, policymakers and economists have taken an idea that is good under clearly defined and very limited circumstances and expanded it into a poisonous and blind ideology. Now is the time to assert the obvious: without a strong public, there can be no private. My health depends on public health. My freedom depends on social freedom. The economy is embedded in a healthy society with functional public services, not the other way around.

This moment of pain and collapse can serve as a wakeup call; a realisation that the public is our greatest good, not the private. Look outside the window to see: without a vibrant and stable public, life can quickly get poor, nasty, brutish and short.Aeon counter – do not remove

Dirk Philipsen is an economic historian and wellbeing economics advocate who teaches public policy and history at Duke University in North Carolina. He is also a senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. His most recent book is The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What to Do About It (2015).

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
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Image: Firefighters applaud medical workers in Manhattan, New York, on 7 April 2020. Photo B A Van Sise/NurPhoto via Getty