- The 30th Birthday of the New Economics Foundation
- The Money Trap: What Brexit and Trump have in common
- First Brexit, Now Trump: What About Globalisation?
- Humans Causing Sixth Extinction Event on Earth?
- The UK Prime Minister Should Plan a Greener Britain
- A Lesson From Iceland
- Globalisation v Localisation
* James Robertson: “Working for a sane alternative“
- THE 30TH BIRTHDAY OF THE NEW ECONOMICS FOUNDATION
Alison and I were closely involved with the creation of the New Economics Foundation in 1986 and with many of its early activities. We are delighted that it has just celebrated its 30th birthday.
(a) Marc Stears, Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation, said:
“There has never been a greater need for a new economy or a more important moment to act than right now, because a storm that has been gathering for decades is firmly upon us.
Millions of people feel they have lost control over their lives and are now being left behind by changes in the economy, technology and climate, even while being promised a parody of control that threatens to make matters worse.
Yet, in the midst of all this upheaval, a surge of energy is being generated that can crack open new possibilities for change now, not at some distant point in the future. The New Economics Foundation exists to drive this change and help give people the tools they need to take real control. We reject the old model of think tanks. We know change does not begin in the corridors of power. And the summit of our ambition is bigger than solely influencing legislation or hoping to get included in a political party’s manifesto.
Instead, the New Economics Foundation exists to drive this change and give people the tools they need to take real control. We are rooted outside the traditional boundaries of politics. We care most about people’s everyday experience and we will work with communities of all kinds to help them take control. And we will offer an agenda for people to take more control over the decisions and resources that affect their lives today and a plan for how we can all begin to change the whole system tomorrow.
In an era where people must co-operate to survive, we will always seek to overcome what divides us, campaigning against racism and xenophobia, never shutting ourselves off from the world or turn our backs on those different from ourselves. We will forge new partnerships with institutions with real power ranging from devolved government and city mayors, business and trade unions, communities, campaigns and movements.
We believe change begins when people recognise that the spiralling chaos and insecurity of daily life is caused by concentrations of power and ownership – whether old or new – operating increasingly beyond their control. We believe change happens when people are able to seize opportunities to take control over what matters most, not wait for it to be done to or for them. We believe change succeeds when people take control over their own future in everyone’s interests to improve the place in which they live and shape even the most powerful institutions.
In short, ours is an agenda for people to take more control today, so that we can change the whole system tomorrow.”
(b) In October, David Boyle, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, wrote about the early days of green economics in the UK:
“The New Economics Foundation is re-launching itself today, and I am a fellow. It seemed like a good moment to look at the history – not just of nef – but of green economics in the UK. This is the first of three blogs, to be published over the next three days…
The year 1973 was almost apocalyptic – war in the Middle East, the energy crisis, the three-day week, private armies, the imminent breakdown of society. It was all very unnerving. Nothing seemed to be working.
Perhaps that was one reason why the atmosphere was suddenly alive with alternatives. Ivan Illich published Tools for Conviviality. Fritz Schumacher published Small is Beautiful. And a former civil servant – James Robertson, the man who wrote Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of Change’ speech – was exiting swiftly from his job with the big banks to work full-time writing and speaking about the emerging post-industrial society.
He had been head of the Inter-Bank Research Organisation and had found himself involved increasingly with the ferment of new ideas.
“I didn’t criticise the banks, but we agreed that I’d had enough there,” he says now. “Looking back on it, I really think I was taking them for a lark because I was getting them to do things which they hadn’t hired me to do.”
At the beginning of 1973, he was on his own, with a desk and a research assistant – Alison Pritchard had been working in educational television in the USA – and expecting to be offered consultancy work. “Actually,” he says, “I found myself involved with much more interesting things, like the energy debate, alternative politics and what was then called the Conservation Society.”
In 1973, James joined the Campaign for Social Democracy, set up by Dick Taverne MP and stood against Tony Benn in Bristol South East at the February 1974 general election, immediately after the three-day week – this was a good seven years before the SDP was a twinkle in the eye of Roy Jenkins.
He won only 886 votes but garnered huge publicity from the support of the prominent Times columnist Bernard Levin.
But what really launched James on his new career was an article he wrote for the Sunday Times called Can we have a non-profit society?.
At the same time, Alison was co-ordinating the Turning Point network – a range of thinkers and activists who were emerging with a bundle of ideas that looked remarkably coherent, and which were to emerge over the next generation as post-industrial alternatives including the new economics.
A link was forged between James, Alison and their futurists and activists with those who were congregating around Schumacher, which was to prove the lynchpin of the emerging set of ideas.
“The first time we both met at a conference, I wasn’t very impressed by him,” says James now. “I had criticisms of him. There were certain things he missed out, like feminism, and I was surprised he didn’t go back in a revolutionary way to look at the monetary experience he had. But I came to like him.”
Alison says now: “He was a natural leader; people flocked to him – he spoke very well and he was funny.”
When Schumacher died suddenly on a train in Switzerland in 1977, James and Hazel Henderson had to step in as the main speakers on his speaking tour of Canada.
What firmly grounded the new movement was when James linked up with the former Guardian city editor Harford Thomas and wrote an Alternatives Manifesto for the 1978 general election that was never actually called.
“I don’t think I thought of myself as a new economist,” says James now. “I was influenced very much by Illich.” It was the post-industrial society, as much as the post-industrial economy, that James was working for.
As such, he and his now wife Alison decided to set up home in the cradle of the original Industrial Revolution, in Ironbridge where they lived for five years before moving to their present home in Cholsey, Oxfordshire.
Meanwhile, the Alternatives Manifesto – with Harford Thomas blowing on the embers with his regular ‘Alternatives’ column – provided a critique that predicted many of the long-term trends that still wrongfoot the establishment today.
Tomorrow: how the New Economics Foundation began, 30 years ago this year…”
- THE MONEY TRAP: WHAT BREXIT & TRUMP HAVE IN COMMON
Robert Pringle sees that many facile comparisons have been made between Brexit and the election of Donald Trump today.
He says that t hey have an important element in common. But the commentators have missed it.
It is said that both represent a backlash against globalisation. Others say it is a revolt of the uneducated, the marginalised, the people who have been left behind. Others emphasise the reaction against excessive immigration: “We want our country back”.
Many blame “experts”. The overwhelming majority of US economists sided with Clinton. The majority of the governors of the Federal Reserve and the entire policy-making establishment in Washington are Democrats. Nearly 400 economists including several Nobel Prize winners wrote an open letter denouncing Trump.
Have the experts done so startlingly well as to deserve the public trust, the status, the cushy jobs, the limousines and honours that go with it? Has the economy done well under their expert stewardship?
This is where we get nearer to the nub of the issue.
What drove Brexit and Trump is a revolt against the legacy of the financial crisis:
- The failure to manage the crisis competently and to get out of it in a reasonable span of time.
- The unfairness of the distribution of the burdens, of the losses.
- The fact that those at the top, those who held responsible positions as heads of great financial institutions, men who, in the view of the public showed astonishing irresponsibility and poor judgement, have “got away with it”.
The reforms that were made were just enough to prevent collapse but postponed fundamental reform, leaving the underlying monetary fabric weaker.
- FIRST BREXIT, NOW TRUMP: WHAT ABOUT GLOBALISATION?
Don’t worry, says John Bunzl:
“Trump won’t be able to put much of his extremist rhetoric into practice. There are too many checks and balances in the U.S. political system. Both Congress and the Senate may be under Republican control, but the Republican Party is far from synonymous with Trump. And in a highly interdependent world our political leaders don’t have nearly as much power as we think….
Voter rebellions of the kind we’re seeing are a reaction to the unregulated neo-liberal form of globalization that we’ve been subject to since the 1980s. While the mobile rich and the multi-national corporations have been the big winners, the middle classes and the poor have been the losers. And now they’ve had enough. We’ve all had enough.”
A new book called The Simpol Solution sets out a very clear and practical process by which we, the Broad Middle, can make binding global agreements happen and make them stick.
- HUMANS CAUSING SIXTH EXTINCTION EVENT ON EARTH?
Recent scientific studies have revealed an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.
These results are dramatic and tragic. They show that we are losing species much more rapidly now than in the last two million years. At that pace, we may lose a large proportion of vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes, in the next two to three decades.
Understanding this clearly should be seen as very important for our present lives today.
- THE UK PRIME MINSTER SHOULD PLAN A GREENER BRITAIN
It has been said that Mrs May should surprise us by offering a guarantee that Britain would match or exceed European environmental standards and carbon targets.
She should pass a new British Environment Act and enforce those environmental laws which, like air pollution standards, are currently ignored.
She should create a new zero carbon industrial strategy that will provide decent manual jobs.
She should promote small farming and fishing instead of the EU Common Agriculture Policy, which has pumped billions of pounds of subsidy into the biggest, most intensive and most damaging farms.
Finally, she should ensure that this new industrial policy isn’t vetoed by the Treasury.
- A LESSON FROM ICELAND
“Western democracies are in turmoil. From Brexit to Donald Trump, to a general lack of trust in politics, disillusioned voters are expressing their frustration in strange ways.
In Iceland, they are taking a more proactive, hopeful approach – and it’s a lesson to the rest of the world. It looks as though a crowd-sourced constitution, developed in 2012, could finally be about to make its way through parliament.
The process has been reminiscent of the Occupy movement that sprang up across the world in 2011. For radical politics, legitimacy comes not simply through single-shot participation, such as through elections, but through a continued involvement in “constitutionalising” – in the processes of rule-making and defining the identity or ethos of a particular community.”
- GLOBALISATION V LOCALISATION
Julian Rose, an early pioneer of organic agriculture in the UK, has written an interesting blog post about different ways of looking at globalisation and localisation:
“The best way to visualise the activity of a marketplace which deals in finite planetary resources as though they were infinite, is a man in a tree steadily sawing off the branch he is sitting on. And yes, he’s three quarters of the way through that branch at the time of going to press.
But there is another paradigm pushing its way up through the morass of discarded steel and concrete which constitute the scrap heap earth economic order; and that is an altogether different baby, with its roots in pre-industrial revolution practices where the land and its resources were regarded with respect and awe, and held to be essential to the health and well-being of all who engaged with them.
Here, manual dexterity and a pedigree in good land husbandry were the hallmarks of sustainable living and the guarantee of good food on the table as well as a robust weatherproof home. The simple values adopted by countryside communities were largely sacrosanct because they were closely associated with life and death, for the whole family. One lived close to the ground and got to know that ground intimately as a result. Mistreat it, and one blew one’s life line to security and prosperity.
Stand these two models side by side – and reflect on which is the more responsible template for the survival of planet Earth, its flora, fauna and human inhabitants….
In case readers should think I’m talking about some futuristic utopia, let it be known that models filling this description are already in operation all over the world”.
Julian Rose is an early pioneer of UK organic agriculture, a writer, activist and President of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside.
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About the author:
James Robertson (born 11 August 1928), a British-born political and economic thinker and activist, became an independent writer and speaker in 1974 after an early career as a British civil servant.
After serving on British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s staff during his “Wind of Change” tour of Africa in 1960, Robertson spent three years in the Cabinet Office. Following that he became Director of the Inter-Bank Research Organisation for the big British banks.
In the mid-1980s Robertson was a prominent co-founder with his wife, Alison Pritchard, of The Other Economic Summit (TOES) and the New Economics Foundation (NEF). He is a member of FEASTA and a patron of SANE (South Africa New Economics Foundation), which was set up following his visit there in 1996.
In October 2003, at the XXIX annual conference of the Pio Manzu Research Centre, Rimini, Italy (closely associated with the UN), he was awarded a gold medal for his “remarkable contribution to the promotion of a new economics grounded in social and spiritual values” over the past 25 years.
Robertson joined the Advisory Board of International Simultaneous Policy Organization which seeks to end the usual deadlock in tackling global issues through an international simultaneous policy. Robertson’s latest book is the Future Money: Breakdown or Breakthrough? (Green Books, 2012).
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