By Holly Black
“Mainstream economics – as taught in universities, debated in the media, and utilized by governments – is based on outdated assumptions, leaving it ill-equipped for guiding us today. Alternative approaches – including ecological, feminist, and evolutionary economics, along with systems thinking and Earth-system science – have valuable insights if we are to achieve human rights and well-being for all within the means of this one planet. It’s time to put these insights at the heart of a new economic toolkit.”
When it comes to economics I’ve always struggled. At times it feels like a huge subject interwoven with difficult terminology and grand concepts completely removed from our daily lives. But in reality, we’re all economists in one way or another, because we’re all shaping the economy - whether we fully understand the language used by the experts, or not. Of course, most of us aren’t the policy people or game changers at the top of the pile, but we are more than capable of understanding the basics and considering how we use our money closer to home. It's fair to say we're in a mess. The too big to fail banks are failing, the recession is still ticking on and we're seeing mass inequality across the world, with many people living in poverty. As MEP Molly Scott Kato said “Everyone needs to know about the inequity of our money system”.
Personally, my main issue with mainstream neo-liberal economic theory is it's market based nature as it disregards human and environmental value. Thankfully, there are loads of people out there making waves and reframing how we think about economics and our monetary system.
Following the Bristol New Economies Summit last month, I’d like to look at Bristol’s local economy and the prospect of a new economy - recognising the worth of humans as more than paid labour and the value of the environment as integral to our success.
Our local currency - The Bristol Pound
Across the UK we’re seeing local currency pop up left, right and centre, from Cornwall to London. The premise is simple. Local currency keeps local money in the local economy. By opting to be paid in Bristol Pound you can use the currency in loads of local independent shops and retailers, from cinemas to food stores to cafes and restaurants. In fact, there is a whole directory here, and you can read the back story of how the Bristol Pound came to be here.
Putting money where your values are - Bristol Credit Union
Bristol Credit Union offers you pretty much everything a usual current or debit account from a high street bank does. However, it’s keeping the money within the local economy - not feeding into the huge financial institutions that keep leaving us to pick up the pieces when they come crashing down. It’s common for the big banks to invest our money elsewhere without our knowing - sometimes into businesses that you might not want anything to do with, like the arms trade or those dealing in fossil fuel. I moved to Bristol Credit Union as part of the Move Your Money campaign, and I asked the high street bank I still use to divest my cash using this handy tool here. I don’t want my money to be contributing to big oil. Do you?
Get to know Economics with the New Economics Foundation
When it comes to how economics works in the real world, the terminology and the premise of neo-liberal capitalism as ‘just being the way it is’, is all very frustrating. The New Economics Organisers Network (NEON) in association with The New Economics Foundation (NEF) are running a course on Economics for Social and Environmental Justice in Bristol, helping us to consider the value of humans and the environment in the bigger economic picture. NEF also run a weekly economics podcast, full of interesting subject areas form a Beginners Guide to Neoliberalism to the Carbon Bubble and Feminist Economics, all presented in as accessible bite sized pieces.
Rethinking Economics - Reforming education
One question that came up over and again at the Bristol New Economics Summit was: is there a big systemic problem about how economics is taught around the world? Rethinking economics is an international network of students and teachers coming together to demystify, diversify, and invigorate economics. Listen to this podcast from the New Economics Foundation, and you won’t believe what our economics students are learning (or not learning as the case may be).
Kate Rowarth gave a brilliant talk on ‘Doughnut Economics’ at the Bristol New Economics Summit relating to the Oxfam report ‘A safe and just space for humanity’ which looks at how we can rethink economics, starting with the question, what if economics didn’t start with money - but started with human well being? Radical? Maybe. But it feels more like common sense to me.
For more information on what happened at the Bristol New Economics Summit, check out this great article in the Huffington Post by Jules Peck.
Useful links and tools
Bioregional Economy - Molly Scott Kato
New Economics Organisers Network Report: Making change happen in Bristol: A NEON report
New Economics Foundation - resources from blogs to podcasts from a think tank based on the premise ‘economics as if people and the planet mattered’.
An A-Z list of economics terminology from the Economist.
Oxfam Report: A Safe and just Space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut?
Read more from Holly here.