Lacking imagination

If you’ve come to read about craft projects, you might want to look away now as I’m going to have a bit of a rant…

In recent years the UK has been faced with a great deal of change. When, for example, the decision was taken for the country to leave the European Union, it was possible (not likely, given our politicians, but nevertheless, possible) to use the break to make some radical changes to our social and economic structure and improve our country. Similarly, the current threats to our environment, from pollution of all kinds and over-use of resources, call for a change to our way of thinking and could be considered to offer opportunities for change that would improve the lot of everybody whilst also protecting the earth.

I’m not surprised, however, that those in power have not seized the moment, but have chosen to hand grimly onto old paradigms that are, quite frankly, outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Just because the country has functioned on the basis of an economic model that values finance over social care, manufacturing over repair, construction over health provision, social class over skill and where you were educated over intelligence does not mean that we have to continue to do so. The book Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner* highlights the fact that much of our economic thinking is based on financially valuing what, in the 18th century, were considered (privileged) male activities and simply expecting the activities of 18th century females to simply happen with no financial recompense. In our modern world, it’s quite clear that such economics lead to all sorts of problems with supply of the people (nurses, carers, repairers, growers, nurturers) and things (nutritious food, clean air and water, soil, biodiversity) we actually need, whilst we are taught to value bankers, billionaires and acquisitiveness.

What is worse, we are brainwashed into thinking that happiness comes from things, and that if we can just own the latest technology, clothes, car or whatever, we will feel fulfilled. Modern economics demands that we buy into this (literally) otherwise the whole system will collapse. Now, I am not advocating system collapse, because when that happens the most vulnerable suffer most. But I do think that , with creative thinking and an appreciation that values other than those embedded into our economics could be our focus, perhaps we can move forward in a more equitable and sustainable way.

There is ample research, for example, on the idea of a circular economy. Currently, we have a linear economy, with extraction of resources being followed by manufacturing, consumption and, all too soon, disposal. A circular economy, in contrast, decouples economic activities from resource extraction, focusing on maintenance, reuse, refurbishment whilst minimising any materials/energy leaving the system. There is a need for skilled individuals within this system, so workers have special value too and are nurtured.

You can find out more here and here or simply search for the term online and you’ll find all sorts of examples and ideas.

Another change that we need to make is to value social care. Our local newspaper today highlighted the pressures in the area on domiciliary care staff, and this seems to be an issue country-wide. Carers have been under especial pressure during the pandemic and it is time that their role was re-evaluated. The Women’s Equality Party has been vocal on this issue, with their leader, Manu Reid highlighting the fact that “care is seen as an expense rather than a valuable investment”, going on to note that “like all forms of care – our government still relies on the fact that women will do it for little or no pay”. Continuing to regard care as a burden and not a key part of the effective functioning of the country harks back to old Adam Smith. Remember, that economics is a fiction… money only has value because we all pretend that it does; intrinsically, it doesn’t, it’s just a way of keeping score. And if we accept this, we can allocate different “scores” to different things. It’s hard to get your head around the concept, but it really is possible to have a different economic model.

Of course the problem is that our current government and politicians are so invested (literally and metaphorically) in the way things are that they are unable to see beyond it. What we need are leaders with vision, with creativity, and with the ability to educate the populace to see that the current way is not the only way. I understand that a major paradigm shift like this is difficult, but on our finite earth is is essential if we are to care for the planet and the people on it. We can all make a little difference and work towards some of the ideas introduced here, but it is those in power who have the potential to drive big changes forward. So, next time you have a chance (or make a chance) to interact with any of our elected leaders, I encourage you to raise some of these issues and see if you can’t open their eyes and spark their imagination.


* His mother (what a surprise)

More, more, more

Economics, as it’s currently understood, is all about growth. The economy is failing unless it continues to grow; wages must keep rising; there must be inflation; we must spend more and consume more. If not, we are failing. But why? What skewed theory is based on continuous growth? It doesn’t work in natural systems, so why would it work in human systems?

Adam Smith, who seems to be at the bottom of much of current economics, considered that technology would result in increased outputs. The enhanced economy would lead to reduced mortality and increased fertility thus delivering an increasing workforce to deliver this ever-expanding economic growth.

Unlimited growth isn’t possible in a limited space

At much the same time as Smith was developing his theories, Thomas Malthus was writing about about limitations. In recent years, Malthus has been somewhat maligned and his Limits to Growth model has been criticised for its simplicity. It’s true that there are more factors to consider than Malthus’ simple contention that food production could only increase arithmetically, whilst the population could expand geometrically, thus the former would limit the latter. However, in a more general way, you have to accept that he had a point: the world contains finite resources, and at some point these are going to limit the populations (human and other organisms) that can be supported.

And it is resources that I have been thinking a lot about lately. The two main environmental issues in the news recently have been plastics and climate change, but really the overarching factor is over-exploitation of finite resources. Whatever aspect of the environment you are concerned about, reducing your use of resources will have a positive impact. Use less “stuff” and you will reduce energy consumption (in production and transportation of goods). Buy less “stuff” and make what you have last longer and there will be less material that needs to be disposed of or recycled. Make the best use of the resources you already have and you will be reducing your impact on the planet.

The economy may not grow as a result of your actions, but the economy is simply a human construct, whilst life in the oceans (for example) is very real and will certainly benefit. In my opinion, a change in what we consider important – from economics to ecology – cannot come soon enough.

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