Monday, 8 November 2010

Where did our money go?

I was recently at an event organised by New Economics Foundation (NEF) entitled ‘Where did our money go?’ It was most refreshing to be among so many people that are not only talking about the problems with our economic system but are also interested in real solutions. This was a discussion going way beyond the stock answers of how to stimulate the economy; how to get people to buy more stuff and the never-ending mantra of pursue economic growth at all costs.
It got me thinking about what is at the heart of Transition and what is the primary issue and the expression that came to mind was ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Much effort is devoted to relating Transition to climate change and peak oil and these are important issues, but are they the issues that matter most to the majority of people? They may become issues that loom large in all our lives in the near future, but right now is this the best way to engage people in the debate of how our future societies should look?
Most people’s primary preoccupation is the economy. It is in the news everyday; it determines if they will still have a job in the future; how much their food will cost; what quality of life they can expect for themselves and their loved ones. If we want to have a conversation that is relevant to most people, then it needs to focus on these concerns about the economy. We need to offer alternative views that challenge the status quo. Argue that the system we are all tied into is a form of collective madness that we have become so used to, we seem incapable of questioning it. Like the consequences of keeping cider in lead lined storage jars before we became aware of the dangers of brain damage, we are all wandering around like global village idiots, grateful for anything that is dished out.
We need to come to our senses and see the true picture; it’s not enough for a few of us to opt out of the system when that is not a viable option for everyone. We need a new economic model that works for everyone and these are the options being researched and advocated by NEF. It is my belief that anyone involved in Transition Initiatives should make the effort to acquaint themselves with these ideas. Promoting these concepts may well be the best opening gambit with the majority of people whose main concern in life is how to make ends meet.
Any vision of a sustainable future needs to be one that can be seen by all and not the private fantasy of a few long term greenies. Without that popular appeal no real change will happen. The more people there are talking about these ideas the more interesting it all becomes to the media and consequently to our political leaders. We need to generate that grassroots demand for change and a different way of viewing the world. It would be naïve to think we can achieve this social shift without the political establishment being behind it just as it would be naive of them to think they can promote policy that does not have popular support. In order to attract the interest of the political establishment we need to capture the attention of the media and in order to attract the attention of the media we need a critical mass of people engaged with the Transition concept.
So the question is: how do we get enough people interested? For me, the initial hook should be that the alternative solutions we are proposing make economic sense to people. They need to be able to afford to make these changes. There is little point suggesting growing your own food to someone who has to work 60 hours a week just to pay the bills. They need to address the work issue first so for that person viable employment options in a local green economy are of far greater interest than volunteering on their local community growing project. A second and equally important way that we may be able to capture people’s interest is on the wellbeing issue. The alternatives we are proposing will lead to healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles and I get the distinct feeling there is an appetite out there for more meaning and value in peoples’ lives.
We need to be ready with ideas and solutions that make sense to others so it is imperative we think beyond our own lives and concerns and put ourselves in the shoes of the people we hope to convince. Unless we have clear answers ready that resonate with those people’s lives and concerns, then the conversation will not last long enough to secure their attention.
So my advice is get acquainted with these alternative economic ideas, talk them over with other people involved in you Transition initiative and let's be ready with some convincing answers when those conversations occur. Anyone up for an economics workshop? Don’t all rush at once!

Read more about NEF at:
Read about the above event and listen to an audio recording at:

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