The last post started out as a confession – but then got sidetracked into an annotated bibiography. So let’s get back on track.
I was, in many ways, typical of an important strand of the generation which was at university in the early 60s – and which helped release the economist and managerial gene from Pandora’s box. We knew better than our parents. Everything needed to change - organisations (particularly the public ones) were outdated and needed to be shaken up in the name of managerialism. The compacency (if not self-interest) of officials needed to be challenged – whether by community activists or by market forces. I was no believer in markets – regional development, after all, was my first great passion. And I had read my Galbraith and realised how oligopolistic and manipulative our bigger companies were (although even these were being threatened in the early 80s by young, upstart companies – at least in some sectors).
It was indeed a cultural revolution if not a Reformation– with rationality being the new religion and social scientists the new priests. Trade unions were seen even in the Labour Party to which it had given birth and succoured over decades as Luddites – as part of the collectivism from which we were to be saved.
What I was trying to say in the last post was that we have allowed the worship of choice and of market forces to go too far. Too many people, of course, have been deceived into thinking that corporate power is the market. And it has been all too easy for those marketing the market (in the media) to link anything collectivist with a dangerous or depasse socialism.
So a new language seems to be needed to reassert civilised values – and perhaps it’s the language of "The Commons" some references to which I stumbled upon recently. The most interesting is a manifesto of sorts from a German -
Over the last two hundred years, the explosion of knowledge, technology, and productivity has enabled an unprecedented increase of private wealth. This has improved our quality of life in numerous ways. At the same time, however, we have permitted the depletion of resources and the dwindling of societal wealth. This is brought to our attention by current, interrelated crises in finance, the economy, nutrition, energy, and in the fundamental ecological systems of life. These crises are sharpening our awareness of the existence and importance of the commons.
What exactly are the Commons? They are the fundamental building blocks and pre-condition of our life and social wealth. They include knowledge and water, seeds and software, cultural works and the atmosphere. Commons are not just “things,” however. They are living, dynamic systems of life. They form the social fabric of a free society.
Natural commons are necessary for our survival, while social commons ensure social cohesion, and cultural commons enable us to evolve as individuals. It is imperative that we focus our personal creativity, talents, and enthusiasm on protecting and increasing our social wealth and natural commons. This will require a change in some basic structures of politics, economics, and society.
More social prosperity instead of more gross domestic product! When the economic growth curve drops and the GDP sinks, it seems threatening to us. Yet appearances deceive. The GDP merely maps production figures and monetary flows without regard for their ecological or social value; such numbers do not measure the things we truly need to live, – they may simply count their destruction. Social prosperity cannot be measured through such means. A reduction in the GDP does not necessarily signal a reduction in the real wealth of a society. Recognizing this fact widens our perspective and opens doors for new types of solutions.More detail can be found in report of a December 2010 Conference and its proceedings; and in the papers of this site