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The entrenched nature of racism in our current economic system is abundantly clear. All over the world, there are cases where one race or class of people are discriminating against and exploiting the ‘other’. This trend is seen with the Rohingya in Myanmar, Africans residing in China, and globally reflected by the massive civil rights protests for #BlackLivesMatter. The discrimination against an ‘other’ is unfortunately a key tenet of how our global economy operates.

It goes without saying that in order to develop a new global economic system that delivers social justice on a healthy planet, we must ensure that these trends do not continue. It is vital that this emergent system is actively ‘antiracist’. 

What does it mean to be antiracist?

Before we can define antiracism, we must define racism. In his book, “How to be an Antiracist”, Ibram X. Kendi defines racism as, “a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalises racial inequities.” 

Racist ideas suggest that one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist policies come about when these ideas influence decision making on how to distribute opportunities and power, often unfairly and unequally As a result, we see racial inequity, when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximate or equal footing to access benefits from our collective systems, such as the financial system or the political system. 

These definitions show that racism goes beyond individuals having prejudices; it is about how those beliefs translate into power imbalances that perpetuate massively different life chances and life outcomes between two racial groups. 

For greater clarification – this is about inequity, not inequality. See the graphic below which illustrates the difference of these two phrases.

Artist: Angus Maguire

In contrast, Antiracism is “a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” 

We are not simply looking for equality, which is giving everyone the same opportunities, but does not consider everyone’s starting points. We are looking to remove the barriers and address the systemic factors that have disadvantaged certain groups, so that everyone ultimately ends up with the same standing. This is equity.

Simply put, antiracism promotes equity, and racism promotes inequity. 

This framing allows for a simple way to identify which policies are racist or antiracist. For example, do-nothing climate policy is racist since the non-white Global South is being victimised by climate change more than the whiter Global North. 

Transitioning away from policies that promote inequity, requires a shift in how we think about our economic system. 

Our current system – underpinned by capitalism [‘an economic system characterised by private ownership for the means of production, especially in the industrial sector’] latches onto existing hierarchies in a society – like gender or race – exploits and exacerbates them, and creates new hierarchies”. As Cedric Robinson states, “Without this ability to exploit existing divisions, the profit margins of the corporations that drive capitalism would be seriously undermined.”

This insight shares the reasoning behind building racial hierarchies in society; to build hierarchies of value. In the Open Democracy Podcast, “Is Capitalism Racist”, Dalia Gebria points out that upholding these hierarchies, where some people do the dirty work that keep others alive, means that “you have to differentiate people into more worthy and less worthy, more human and less human, and with particular characteristics that make them seem ‘naturally suited’ to this work, all while concealing the fact that this differentiation is socially constructed.” 

Continuing to uphold these hierarchies in society will perpetuate the capitalist system that is underpinned by racist policies. Kendi says, “Whoever creates the norm creates the hierarchy and positions their own race-class at the top of the hierarchy.” Meaning that, to dismantle these hierarchies of power and to ensure policies are not racist, policymaking must be inclusive of all the voices of communities. Building policies that are inherently collaborative, is the process needed to build a Wellbeing Economy

In a Wellbeing Economy, people and the planet are the priority. The focus is on building equity in societies all over the world. As Kendi writes, “Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change.” 

This is why a core part of WEAll’s network is focused on convening and connecting stakeholders from different focus areas and geographies and bringing them into each other’s work thus catalysing new powerbases of people that can shift policy and structural change in our economic system. This is created through our place-based Hubs, [ScotlandCosta Rica, Iceland, Cymru- Wales, California, New Zealand], which advocate for policy change, and the establishment of the WEGo Partnership, which is the world’s only living lab testing Wellbeing Economy policies.

To transition towards a Wellbeing Economy, our future policies must stop thinking of transaction, value extraction, and accumulation, but rather begin to think about togetherness, survival, and repair. We are all on the same planet, in this complex system; as one.

Visit our anti-oppression page to learn more about how to incorporate antiracist decision making into your work. 

Our upcoming Wellbeing Economy Policy Design Guidebook will also outline the specific tools needed for policymaking that promotes equity. 

If you are interested in starting a WEAll Hub in your local area, see our Hub Guide.  

Written by Isabel Nuesse

WEAll is developing a Policy Design Guide that is to be launched in January. In support of this, we hosted an event on November 5th to galvanize interest. Amanda Janoo led the discussion and in her presentation, she outlined the goals of the Guide and how it can be used by Policymakers around the globe. In particular, the Guide addresses the need for case studies that show how to transition toward a Wellbeing Economy. 

After her short presentation, participants broke into breakout rooms to discuss the following questions:

Discuss your experiences designing policies to build a just and sustainable economy. What has worked and what hasn’t? 

How could a global policymakers network and/or WEAll support governments to build a Wellbeing Economy? What would you hope to gain from a network such as this?  

Some of the interesting questions that were raised are detailed below. 

What is a Wellbeing Economy?

  • Definitions: What are the different definitions of wellbeing? How do we make these understood by global audiences?
  • Clarity: What is the definition of a Wellbeing Economy? How we get there is still unclear. The goals feel too general and are disconnected from what is happening on the ground. How can we provide better clarity? 
  • Communication: Clear messaging around a Wellbeing Economy is important. How do you get more buy-in from colleagues? Some expressed the misconceptions around having to give something up to make progress on social or environmental issues. Do people have to choose between the economy and the environment? One suggestion for developing widespread understanding of a Wellbeing Economy was creating a forum for communication with people e.g. hosting Citizen Assemblies, as done in Scotland, for example. 
  • Education: There must be a student-led movement and shift in school curriculums to educate about a need for a Wellbeing Economy and the necessary transitions to achieve it. In addition, there must be a shift in understanding that economic policy, environmental policy and social policy are not ‘separate’; these distinctions are unhelpful and efforts must be connected to each other to deliver desired wellbeing outcomes.

Data & Evidence

  • Evidence: Many people want to make the transition, but more measurements, case studies, research, indicators are needed.
  • Indicators and data: For the countries that have access to data on wellbeing indicators, questions lie in how to prioritise, how to apply the data and how to share it across various sectors of the economy. For those countries that don’t have access to the internet or systems to collect sound data, how can governments make informed decisions?

Involving Stakeholders

  • Participation: How do we bring people along with us on the journey towards a Wellbeing Economy? How can we engage them throughout the policy design process? 
  • Diversity:. How do we ensure that we’re representing all communities? One comment suggested that the SDGs ignoring racial inequality as a core issue. We cannot achieve the SDGs without first tackling issues around race and racism. 
  • Aligning Institutions: Most government departments still work in silos. How do we align government efforts to recognise and address the interconnections between social, environmental and economic dimensions? How can we illustrate these synergies? 

Considerations for Prioritising Wellbeing 

  • Adaptation: How can we adapt frameworks such as the SDGs or the OECD Wellbeing Framework to our national context? How can we select and prioritise the wellbeing goals that suit our unique context, challenges and culture? 
  • Money: This is still the dominant bottom line in policy: allocate budgets to help the economy grow first and foremost, and people and planet as secondary considerations . If we are to shift  toward a Wellbeing Economy, what kind of investment strategy would we need to address this issue? 
  • Women: If we don’t lift up and empower women globally, how are we going to improve wellbeing? One interesting point was raised around finding out what women actually need. For example, a rural electrification project may want to support women, but is that the solution that is actually going to lift women out of poverty? How do we focus our efforts to address root causes?

Where do we go from here?

There are a lot of questions around transitioning to a Wellbeing Economy that need answers. These answers  will not come from WEAll alone, but from all of us, as a collective. Together, we can share our knowledge and experience, connect the theoretical with the practical, identify the most useful indicators, and simplify language so that others may understand the vision of a Wellbeing Economy. 

Please let us know if you are interested in joining a network of policymakers from around the globe to support and co-create Wellbeing Economy  practices,by filling out this form.