The blackhole and the seed: A system of equilibrium between alternative states and logics
If you were to create a new economy how would you go about it and what does the question even mean in the first place?
In a narrow sense of ‘new economy’ we could stick rigidly to our current notion of the economy we experience today on a daily basis.
We could make that ‘better’ through reform and then call it ‘the new economy’.
I’m sure this would make the existing players very happy. A vastly expensive and grandiose political rebranding exercise to symbolise a change of times and attitudes.
The bad guys get a lick of environmentally friendly paint put on a pair of Toms and it’s like the economic, environmental and corporate disasters, crimes and scandals of the past never even happened.
I mean you’d hardly recognise them from a distance i.e. on their yacht in the Caymans or at the top of an ivory tower. Whichever and wherever is the furthest distance from you, your like and all of your self-incurred woes.
Nothing ever changes as they say.
Or maybe we could take a wider view of the question?
What could we take from the original Greek meaning (οίκος — “household” and νέμoμαι — “manage”) and reimagine with it?
What alternatives could we present ‘ourselves’ with?
What life could we put back into this old house of ours?
The black hole — A dangerous trajectory
Before I continue, I don’t mean to suggest that reform isn’t necessary and long due. It is. It’s just that I believe that as well as demanding and expecting such reform we also need to develop a largely separate and alternative economy.
If the system we have is too big to fail and too powerful to listen then we need some kind of fall-back.
It would only be practical and prudent to do so.
An underlying and parallel economy might fit the bill. Something which works in a similar way but with an alternative set of logics acting as an opposing polar principle and osmotic barrier.
Connected to the existing economy, yet also isolated and insulated from its damaging effects, excesses, actions and behaviours.
To me when I look at the existing economy I tend to reduce it, unfairly I know, to simple set of actions and behaviours.
Here’s a picture which demonstrates how much of it works and what is wrong.
It’s a machine which can never be satisfied and the problems that it creates go on to become the potential for new and rewarding markets and services.
Advertising makes you feel worthless and then sells you things.
If you are suffering mental health problems you can be sold tablets, treatments, books and hope.
If you are made redundant and become depressed you can be enrolled on positive mental attitude courses to see it as a grand opportunity. Thus, conversely and cynically also your own problem and fault.
It’s environmental, social and personal death by a thousand cuts.
It’s a cruel system of psychological abuse, exploitation and predation.
The list is endless and the techniques and practices of; the economy, certain businesses and most advertising, are all connected to a dial which is only able to turn in a single direction > towards GDP.
That there is money in it there is no doubt.
That it is a broken system is also a certainty.
But, like a slowly sinking ship with a million leaks there can be strong incentives in bailing out the water instead of fixing the leaks.
Not for citizens of course who would benefit from not living in a leaky boat, but to the established players — the backers and the banks — major economic actors and corporations.
It is they who are standing with their buckets at the ready.
Be it a forever disaster like the leaky ship or a temporary disaster like New Orleans, Yemen or Covid. There is a pile of taxpayer money which can be siphoned off and decanted away into a private offshore cellar somewhere.
All of this unnecessary and wasteful activity is called economic activity and contributes towards GDP.
When we have politicians and businessmen stand up and proudly announce how the country and the world economy is doing don’t forget that this is also what they are presenting to you.
It should make us all very ill and ashamed.
It’s killing us. It’s killing our planet. It’s killing everything it touches.
It isn’t even capable of stopping itself anymore.
I feel it may be impossible for a political party to gain power and enact the kind of initiatives, policies and reforms to get us out of the mess due to the way our political systems work.
The media would be against them. The banks would be against them. The status quo would be against them.
The people would thus be turned against them.
Any significant progress lost overnight at the next election or at worst reversed in its entirety if more retrograde actors gained control.
Depressing isn’t it.
But the political process isn’t the only game in town.
If you’re willing to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in there’s actually lots that can be done. It may appear small and inconsequential but once you add it all up the effect can be quite dramatic.
Plus, if the people do the work the political tide may feel the pull of their combined gravity and ire…
So, let’s forget about politics and our saviours at Davos and concentrate on our own personal and social power and agency to change the world.
It’s what we did before today’s politics and this kind of economy.
Do It Yourselves.
The Seed — A change of orientation and separation
If a black hole could be a metaphor for the economy of today.
What would be the metaphor for the economy of tomorrow?
For me this is the seed.
The seed contains within it the potential to grow and develop and contribute to the wider ecology of which it is not a separate part.
A seed works in the completely opposite manner to the black hole.
It develops at the right speed and reaches the right size. It is in mutual relationship with its environment and it does not exploit it. It does not externalise effects and impacts.
The black hole cares not a toss.
A seed brings life whereas the black hole consumes all.
A seed reaches towards the light.
The black hole devours even light itself.
It is a seed or garden like economy that we are looking for and some ecological and permaculture logic to help us nurture and maintain it.
Something with which we can grow into, over, and away from the current system and its singular trajectory.
By the way, please don’t think of these 2 differing types of logic as being opposed to each other in any kind of rivalrous sense. They just operate with an alternate set of logic which sets them apart and it is useful for me to create a contrast to help illustrate my thoughts.
The South Pole and the North pole are not at war with each other — they simply represent polarities.
In fact, there is actually only a very tiny point that actually is either the North or South Pole. Everything else is not entirely it and the location is always drifting. Much like my writing.
In a similar way we can journey around the globe either towards or away from either pole but at some point we cross a line which moves us into the other hemisphere.
It is this other missing hemisphere which represents the world turned upside down.
The Old World and the New World.
The Old Economy and the New Economy.
It is the alternative logic which brings about equilibrium.
Economic and Developmental Approaches
The world’s economy’s have gradually become financialised and marketized in almost every possible way during the 20th century.
This has had an effect on what is referred to as development, in short the social and cultural realm, opportunities and conditions that the general population are provided with.
As economic activity (GDP) became the only game in town everything else became anchored to this indicator and singular viewpoint.
If you wanted health services, education, democracy or rights then GDP became the key to realising these — by process, policy and definition — now secondary considerations.
‘Development as Freedom’ by Amartya Sen (1999) goes some way in explaining today’s intellectual and economic standpoint.
Amartya Sen provides detailed background on how and why the world’s economies drifted into a singular way of operation and thinking and he questions the dogma and orthodoxy which has driven and continues to drive governmental approaches to the economy.
There was a time when economic thoughts and possibilities were far more open to question, that was until today’s established viewpoint became dominant.
There is nothing new in this. It is the course of history.
“One set of prejudices has given to another — opposite — set of preconceptions. Yesterday’s unexamined faith has become today’s heresy, and yesterday’s heresy is the new superstition.” — Amartya Sen
He then elaborates on an alternative set of understandings which call into question the assumptions of the current model and its belief system.
It would be unfair to call Amartya’s work oppositional.
It is alternative, more complete, and far wider in scope.
Today’s established thinking and practice creates and considers an economy in isolation from all things.
Amartya presents an economic understanding that is inclusive of all things.
Instead of GDP coming first our social considerations receive their proper priority and importance and in doing so they then contribute to improving social and economic conditions for everyone.
To be fair let’s just call this the gist which I took away.
As you can imagine, it’s all rather more detailed and comprehensive.
The capability approach (also referred to as the capabilities approach) is a normative approach to human welfare that…
I had hoped that my own ideas for ‘Socially Enterprising’ would mesh completely with the approaches outlined in ‘Development as Freedom.’
This wasn’t entirely the case, although much could be complimentary.
‘Development as Freedom’ very much concerns itself with the developmental approaches of big G government and it is my belief that Big G government is one thing and Socially Enterprising is something entirely different.
As such I introduce Amartya’s work in this post to illustrate that there are existing economic and developmental alternatives.
The New World and The New Economy — A Development Led Approach
In my work I have tended to use ‘development’ in its widest sense.
This is mostly due to the fact that I’m not a professional. The meaning of ‘development’ to me is more generally its ‘common sense’.
A flower develops from a seed. A photograph from a black plate.
Within each of these exists a form of potentiality which can be realised or revealed over time and with the right set of conditions and understanding.
This is not to say that my approach is mutually exclusive from the professional developmental sectors or spheres.
But it is very much the case that the one cannot entirely contain the other.
Let me try to explain.
If I asked a thousand everyday people on the street what ‘social action’ meant I would get a thousand different responses and every one of them would be correct — this would be the common sense of the term.
If I asked a government or a funder what ‘social action’ was I would be given a very particular and limiting definition of the term — it has become professional terminology for a specific usage.
Does that make sense? The one can contain the other but not the other way around.
So when I say that Socially Enterprising is a platform for Personal, Community, Organisational, Economic and Social Development these are meant in their widest sense.
It is very open and inclusive.
I think the expression is — Tight enough to fit. Loose enough to move.
It means that people, communities and local organisations fit very well into the idea i.e. the majority of the population all doing things in their own way.
But it also means that existing governmental departments, social professions and national organisations can also find some space for themselves. There is likely to be a part of their work which is in alignment and hence able to find a role within the platform.
Back to the question of the economy and development.
I believe it may be possible for Socially Enterprising to be used to help define the alternate pole and logic for the currently missing hemisphere of thought and practice.
Instead of government led economic activity towards GDP. Socially Enterprising fosters and support citizen and community led developmental activity that ultimately also leads to additional and multiple economic and social benefits.
It doesn’t seek to replace anything or work against.
It just aims to work in an additional and alternative direction and manner.
The government, business and the economy can continue on their march towards GDP. At the same time Socially Enterprising enables alternative yet complimentary activity which focusses on development first and economic activity as a secondary factor.
With 2 available conceptual poles we can head towards both at the same time.
It opens up a vast amount of space and range of options.
This is the logic of the seed vs the logic of the black hole.
In this alternative developmental viewpoint every person, every community, every organisation and every worker can be recognised as having latent developmental potential and socially beneficial possibilities.
Everything becomes seeds in a garden based economic metaphor.
Open vs Closed
There are other differences in how the 2 hemispheres could operate and organise themselves.
Open vs Closed is one of these.
In our current system everything works in a closed fashion. It was all designed and conceived in a time when communication was not easy and instant.
Hierarchical structures and businesses separated from their negative environmental and social impacts are all symptomatic of this closed and disconnected model of the world.
Networks turn all of the preceding logic and reasoning on its head.
All that is solid melts into air…
I’d like to take you on a journey into our past, present and future.
In a world of instant connection and communication everything can be brought into relationship with everything else. It makes no sense to design or think in a closed fashion.
We should be asking what that means for society, business, civil society and government.
To give an example as I have referred to it in a previous post.
The Universal Credit system was led and its design and logic heavily influenced by a government minister whilst the work was undertaken by private consultants and companies.
This is government operating in a closed manner.
As the highest authority it takes and makes decisions through a politically singular perspective, then transacts with a private company in the creation of a private and closed system.
Transactions like this hand over taxpayer money for receipt of a product or service. The private companies generate profit as well as privatising and capitalising upon the produced knowledge and skills.
In effect as a society we are paying twice for the privilege of doing business with business and over time this kind of extractive transaction diminishes the ability of ‘the state’ to think and act for itself.
In the past it may have made sense to do things in this way.
But, in today’s world there is no reason why several universities, governmental departments, civil society organisations and communities couldn’t be involved in designing, delivering and supporting a system which met very similar aims.
A closed system can only think and organise itself according to costs.
Whereas an open system is able to exchange and generate multiple forms of value within itself and because of this it doesn’t face the same restrictions.
In an ‘open world’ we are able to turn problems into ‘learning opportunities’.
With these ‘learning opportunities’ we are able to develop the real-life practical skills and experience that private companies are looking for in their employees.
Can you see how this turns the previous situation on its head?
An ‘open state’ could be the most fertile ground for knowledge and skills development in existence and by realising this it might be possible to change how learning happens as well as how private companies develop knowledge and contribute to society.
It is possible for ‘the state’ to work far smarter than it is today and become far smarter as a result.
It’s possible for everything in society, civil society, business and the state to work in a much more intelligent way than it is today.
Costs, much like GDP, could in part become secondary. The primary considerations being how do we generate the greatest amount of social value, public benefit and learning and developmental opportunities from the problems and needs that we have.
How much of the state could be open?
How much of civil society could be open?
The commons? The environment? Civic society?
What does it mean to live and work and develop and learn in an open, connected and networked society?
Nothing needs to work in quite the same way in the other hemisphere.
Now I don’t expect government to leap forward and grasp this with both hands, it’s far too alien. But it is possible to bring together forward-thinking organisations from within all sectors to do the prefigurative work today for the kind of society we could become in the future.
What could be realised from putting together and demonstrating a radically alternative approach?
I ask myself just how open could Socially Enterprising be?
Socially Enterprising as a Socio-Cultural-Economic Paradigm
If anyone here is an economist you might want to close your eyes.