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By Kristín Vala  Ragnarsdóttir

6 December, 2019

Vala is a WEAll Ambassador, member of the WEAll Global Council and leader of WEAll Iceland. She is Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland.

 

 

During my summer vacation in 2018 in the Norwegian mountains I read the Nordic Secret by Lene Rachel Andersen from Denmark and Tomas Björkman from Sweden.  The subject of the book was an eye opener for me.  Despite being from a Nordic country (Iceland) I was not aware of the history and social development in the Nordic countries during the 19th century.

Andersen and Björkman demonstrate in the Nordic Secret that when enlightenment came to Copenhagen around 1850 (a century after enlightenment in central Europe) salons were held (mostly by women) and new ideas from Central Europe were discussed.

Unlike Central Europe where the ideas were discussed largely by the ‘intelligentsia’, in Denmark salons were held with a wide participation. Then „folk“ high schools were set up for the children of Danish farmers.  First only young men came to the schools, usually set up by men with their wives – where everyone lived together and discussed new ideas together.  Later young women were also welcomed.  In the „folk“ high schools they discussed new ideas pertaining to philosophy, farming, craft etc.  Everyone lived together, cooked and cleaned, did chores on the land.  No exams were held.

The young people stayed for 3-6 months and then went home to participate and later take over their parents farms – with new ideas in mind.  They were no longer only proud of being farmer children, they were proud of being Danish. This was the foundation of the farming industry in Denmark and the Scandinavian design which is to this day notable.  Later „folk“ high schools were opened up in Norway and Sweden and to a lesser extent in Finland.  By the end of the 19th century there were hundreds of „folk“ high schools in the four Nordic countries. Though no such schools were opened up in Iceland, some of the new ideas came to Iceland with men that had studied in Copenhagen. Of interest is that the „folk“ high schools were set up by clergy and the general public in Denmark, teachers in Norway, the intelligentsia in Sweden and women in Finland.

Once the young people were back on their parents’ farms they were instrumental in founding and supporting co-operatives.  The cooperatives were at the centre of each community, and fostered the building up of libraries and discussion groups.

What was different with the Central European enlightenment was that it largely only affected the intelligentsia.  In the Nordic countries it affected the whole population.  The „folk“ high schools were thus the foundation of the Nordic countries as they are today with their admirable and enviable (proclaimed by many) welfare- and social democratic societies with social justice, universal health care and education at the core.

What is suggested by Andersen and Björkman at the end of the Nordic Secret is that we need to continue with the ideology of the 19th century – where the Bildung of the Nordic population took place (the German word Bildung means more than education – it also is rooted in culture and aims at widening peoples’ horizons). They proposed that Bildung 1.0 occurred from 1850-1900.  Bildung 2.0 took place in the 20th century – and that we now need Bildung 3.0 – with the aim of raising everyone’s horizons to care for humanity as a whole, the Planet and future generations.

I wholly agree and therefore I started to have salons in my living room in November 2018.  Once or twice a month anyone interested can meet in my living room to discuss new ideas with the aim of raising everyone’s horizons.  We read books together and discuss their content.  So far we have gone in detail over the Nordic Secret, in addition (but in less detail) Spiral Dynamics (by Beck and Cowan) and Integral Meditation (by Ken Wilber).  The two latter books outline the evolutions of thinking (Beck and Coward) and the need for the simultaneous development of thinking and states of consciousness (Wilber).

The next book we will discuss is the latest book by Andri Snær Magnason (About Time and Water), which was published in Iceland in early October – but is currently being translated into more than 20 languages.  It is about the climate crisis – and why we find it so difficult to get our heads around the issues at hand.  I recommend that everyone look for this book when it comes out in their language. Magnason is a master in putting complicated issues into words that everyone can understand.

 

This piece was first published on OpenDemocracy

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7 Ideas for the G7

Economic policies to tackle inequality and deliver wellbeing

By Amanda Janoo

 

This week the heads of state of the economies that comprise the Group of 7 (the ‘G7’) gather in France to discuss the critical issues of our time – with the stated focus of fighting inequality.

The group first came together in the 1970s to find a collective solution to the oil crisis that was destabilizing economies worldwide. Since their first meeting, the leaders of the G7 have met annually to confront the economic challenges that bind us.

This G7 gathering could be historic, if they take the bold and swift action required to tackle inequality, as well as the climate emergency, and to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

As we brace ourselves for another financial crisis, inequality between and amongst countries continues to grow exponentially, breeding social and political unrest worldwide.

Within many of the G7 countries, affluence is not breeding happy and healthy societies but lonely and anxious ones. The global balance of power is shifting from nation states to Multinational Corporations threatening the very democratic principles that bind the G7 countries. All while the rapid rate of biodiversity loss and climate change threaten our very existence.

These existential issues cannot be solved by any single country alone. They are a product of a global economic system that desperately needs to be reformed. The G7 countries represent over half of global economic wealth and still have the power to change this system. Tinkering with exchange rates and select tax policies will not cut it.

We need our leaders to be brave at this critical juncture in history when the world is splintering, and to realize there is far more that binds us than divides us.

My new paper, published today by The Wellbeing Economy Alliance, offers 7 Ideas for the G7 in the spirit of hope and a belief that a more just and sustainable economy is not only possible, but a few strategic decisions away:

 

  1. Adopt alternative progress indicators to GDP:

Global obsession with Gross Domestic Product as a progress indicator has resulted in widespread confusion between means and ends. The G7 should abandon the objective of GDP growth and agree to focus on achieving real economic objectives that matter most to citizens.

  1. Reform international economic organizations to promote wellbeing economies:

Perhaps no one has suffered more deeply from our dubious notion of progress than the global south. The G7 should work to reform the international economic organizations to encourage locally-oriented, context-appropriate economic development practices. We must abandon the idea that development or progress is a one-way street and create space for experimentation to identify systems of production and provision that can bring wellbeing to all.

  1. Binding code of conduct for multinational corporations (MNCs):

For too long, the global economy has allowed multinational corporations to accumulate unprecedented wealth and power, leading to a “race to the bottom” amongst countries to adopt the lowest environmental, labour and tax standards to attract or appease these global giants. A binding code of conduct would create greater space for upholding democratic governance of economies, and ensure more ethical production practices worldwide.

  1. Global Competition Regulation:

Every sector in the global economy is dominated a handful of corporations. MNC controlled supply chains now account for over 80% of global trade each year. This level of economic conglomeration is economically unsustainable and ethically unacceptable. We need global competition regulation to minimize risk and ensure more equitable and balanced business development worldwide.

5. Create citizens wealth funds:

The rise of new technologies has created new wealth, much of it reliant on public funding for education and research. The G7 should recognize that technological development must benefit society as a whole and not just the select few – which requires a new tax and redistribution system. Through a windfall tax on technological breakthroughs G7 countries could develop Citizen Wealth Funds at the country level to fund universal basic income, public services and infrastructure development.

6. Ban and redistribute all off-shore bank account funds:

Due to lack of global economic coordination and oversight, it is now estimated that at least 10% of the world’s GDP is held in offshore bank accounts. We need an official ban of all off-shore banking, with the G7 using their collective intelligence to extract all money currently held within these institutions and put it directly into a “global citizens wealth fund” to combat climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

  1. Financial Transaction Tax (Tobin Tax or ‘Robin Hood’ tax):

Global financial markets now move at lightning speed, generating immense wealth and at the same time universal vulnerabilities. France and Germany have been pushing for a global financial transaction tax at the G7 but have not succeeded in gaining substantial traction. This policy agenda would tax international financial transactions, particularly speculative currency exchange transactions, reducing financial volatility and raising billions to combat the global crises of our time.

 

These bold ideas are fully feasible given the wealth and power of the G7 countries. During World War II, the Army Corp of Engineer’s had a motto: “the difficult we do immediately, the impossible will take a little while.”

There are moments in history when paradigms shift. We are at this moment and if the G7 promotes these policies, we would be well on our way to achieving the “impossible”:  a global economic system that ensures we all live long and healthy lives in harmony with our natural environment.

Download the full briefing paper here

Image: Lafargue Raphael/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images