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Archive for June 29th, 2019

The renovated market in Preston, Lancashire, 2018. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Earlier this week there was a thought-provoking article by Andy Beckett on the Guardian website. Below are some short extracts: for the full article see link.

There is a dawning recognition that a new kind of economy is needed: fairer, more inclusive, less exploitative, less destructive of society and the planet. “We’re in a time when people are much more open to radical economic ideas,” says Michael Jacobs, a former prime ministerial adviser to Gordon Brown. “The voters have revolted against neoliberalism. The international economic institutions – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund – are recognising its downsides.” Meanwhile, the 2008 financial crisis and the previously unthinkable government interventions that halted it have discredited two central neoliberal orthodoxies: that capitalism cannot fail, and that governments cannot step in to change how the economy works.

. . .

[The idea of a] “democratic economy” is not some idealistic fantasy: bits of it are already being constructed in Britain and the US. And without this transformation, the new economists argue, the increasing inequality of economic power will soon make democracy itself unworkable. “If we want to live in democratic societies, then we need to … allow communities to shape their local economies,” write Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill, both prolific advocates of the new economics, in a recent article for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) – a thinktank previously associated with New Labour. “It is no longer good enough to see the economy as some kind of separate technocratic domain in which the central values of a democratic society somehow do not apply.” Moreover, Guinan and O’Neill argue, making the economy more democratic will actually help to revitalise democracy: voters are less likely to feel angry, or apathetic, if they are included in economic decisions that fundamentally affect their lives.

The new economists’ enormously ambitious project means transforming the relationship between capitalism and the state; between workers and employers; between the local and global economy; and between those with economic assets and those without. “Economic power and control must rest more equally,” declared a report last year by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a radical London thinktank that has acted as an incubator for many of the new movement’s members and ideas.

. . .

Preston’s hilltop city centre, which had been fading for decades, now has a refurbished and busy covered market, new artists’ studios in former council offices, and coffee and craft beer being sold from converted shipping containers right behind the town hall. All these enterprises have been facilitated by the council. Less visibly, but probably more importantly, the city’s large concentration of other public sector bodies – a hospital, a university, a police headquarters – have been persuaded by the council to procure goods and services locally whenever possible, becoming what the Democracy Collaborative calls “anchor institutions”. They now spend almost four times as much of their budgets in Preston as they did in 2013.

The council leader is Matthew Brown, an intense, angular 46-year-old who was partly inspired to enter politics by seeing Benn on television as a teenager. “What we’re doing in Preston is common sense, but it’s also ideological,” Brown told me, when we met in his sparse office. “We’re living through a systemic crisis of capitalism, and we’ve got to create alternatives.” By doing so – especially at a time when local councils are supposed to have been hugely weakened by government cuts – Preston is in small but visible ways undermining the authority of neoliberalism, dependent as it is on the insistence that no other economic options are possible.

The council, Brown continued proudly, was “supporting local small businesses rather than big capitalists”. It was using its “leverage” as a procurer to make businesses behave more ethically: pay the living wage, recruit more diverse staff. And it was aiming to make the city a place where cooperatives were mainstream rather than niche: “My intention is to get them to 30%, 40% of our economy.”

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