This is session is part of the Webinar "Dialogue on Alternatives in the Time of Global Crises".

Dialogue 9: Covid 19 - A dialogue on economy of Well-being

with Katherine Trebeck (Scotland) and Lorenzo Fioramonti (Italy)

In this ninth session we will explore "Wellbeing Economy", which aims to break free from the growth mantra, and build a better society that promotes social justice on a healthy planet by empowering citizens as the collective leaders of tomorrow. Members of the Well-being Economy Alliance will expand on this concept and practice.
  • Date: Friday 14th August
  • Time: 13:30 (UTC/GMT)
  • Duration: 90 minutes

Download: [ Video ] (984Mb) | [ Audio only ] (93Mb)


Participants: Vasna (V); Katherine (K); Lorenzo (L); Ashish (A)

V: On that note I’d like to welcome you, good morning, good evening to everyone who has joined us from around the world. This is the 9th webinar of the Global TapestryThe weaving of networks of Alternatives of AlternativesAre activities and initiatives, concepts, worldviews, or action proposals by collectives, groups, organizations, communities, or social movements challenging and replacing the dominant system that perpetuates inequality, exploitation, and unsustainabiity. In the GTA we focus primarily on what we call "radical or transformative alternatives", which we define as initiatives that are attempting to break with the dominant system and take paths towards direct and radical forms of political and economic democracy, localised self-reliance, social justice and equity, cultural and knowledge diversity, and ecological resilience. Their locus is neither the State nor the capitalist economy. They are advancing in the process of dismantling most forms of hierarchies, assuming the principles of sufficiency, autonomy, non-violence, justice and equality, solidarity, and the caring of life and the Earth. They do this in an integral way, not limited to a single aspect of life. Although such initiatives may have some kind of link with capitalist markets and the State, they prioritize their autonomy to avoid significant dependency on them and tend to reduce, as much as possible, any relationship with them. and we’re really delighted to have today Katherine Trebeck and Lorenzo Fioramonti who are joining us for the session today. We are going to be talking about an Economy of Wellbeing. Before we start with the presentation I will just take a moment to share a little bit of an introduction to the Global Tapestry of Alternatives. For some of you, you will have seen this before and for others this will hopefully be a new presentation. As I mentioned, this is part of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives dialogue on alternatives in the time of global crises. The starting point for the Global Tapestry of Alternatives is that we live in a world with multiple global crises, we are very aware of the ecological ones, with the loss of biodiversity, climate change, pollution etc. We’re seeing increasingly the social, economic, and political crises as well as cultural and to a large degree the personal crises that people experience through alienation, depression and meaninglessness in their lives.

On top of all that we now have Covid19, a health crisis to some degree but what we have also come to realise is that it intermeshes with some of the other crises and in many ways exacerbates the problems that we already have, leading to a more urgent need to respond to it. What we are seeing at this time is that there are incredible responses that are coming up around the world to capitalism, state domination and patriarchy, that there are people who are trying to resist this, and on top of that also thinking about other ways of being, knowing, of living in the world. And this today is something that we are going to be talking about. We’ve also seen that people are constructing and creating constructive alternatives. Just to give you a sense of it, around the world we have things like ubuntu coming from Southern Africa, sumak quasay coming from Latin America, the ideas that are coming out of Europe like the solidarity economy and degrowth and so forth. There’s a plethora of opportunities that we’d like to actually draw from from this webinar that allows us to deal with this crisis but also transform society as we know it. And so the Global Tapestry of Alternatives is a process. We don’t see it as a project, not an organisation but as creating spaces of collaboration, learning and exchange. We want to offer active solidarity and use it as a way to stimulate collective visions of a just world. And so this webinar series does that, bringing people together through the webinars and we encourage you to actively participate, add your comments and inputs in the chat and hopefully continue to work with us in the GTAGlobal Tapestry of Alternatives. This is the website if you’d like more information about what we are doing and just to give you a sense of this, this webinar series is part of that, we’re bringing together activists, scholars, researchers, mobilisers, practitioners from everywhere to talk about the real challenges that we have, the resistance that is being created and the alternatives that people are developing and envisioning for the future. We’ve so far had 8 webinars and you can see recordings of these on our website and I’m really delighted that today, as I mentioned, it is one on the economy of wellbeing. So we are going to explore the concept of wellbeing.

K: Hi folks, I think one of the greatest things about doing webinars like this rather than discussions in a lecture theatre or chairs around a table is that we can have folks from almost anywhere in the world and it’s so lovely to see all of the introductions coming in in the chat now. So I’m based in Glasgow where I’ve had to unusually shut the curtains because it’s so sunny, blinding me over my laptop. So Glasgow in Scotland, I work for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance which is a global initiative which I’m going to tell you a little bit about in a minute but I’m also working for the Scottish hub as well, we’ve been going for a couple of years now and Lorenzo I’ll let you introduce yourself, we’ve known each other for 7- 8 years now, been partners in crime in a couple of things.

L: Hi Katherine, hi everyone, my name is Lorenzo Fioramonti, I’m Italian, I’m a professor for Political Economy in South Africa at the University of Pretoria and up until a few months ago I was the Minister of Education, University and Research for the Italian Government. I’m the author of a number of books, one of which is titled the Wellbeing Economy and the conversations that Katherine and I had up until now eventually culminated in the Wellbeing Economy Governance and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and I’m sure Katherine will tell you more about that.

K: I’ll start, I have my sharing screen, bear with me.

V: So we’ll give Katherine and Lorenzo time to make short presentations and then we’ll take questions and discussions so please do start putting your questions into the chat.

K: Great, we’ll try not to talk too long because what is most exciting, most interesting, and hopefully most helpful is the discussion and dialogue after. So I’m going to talk through briefly, taking Ashish’s instruction that we don’t need to rehearse all of the problems facing the world, I’ve just got this slide up which was one of the cartoons that was in one of the Australian newspapers at the beginning of the year and of course that was at a time when my country, Australia, was quite literally on fire and I have to confess it was quite heartbreaking sitting here in Scotland, on the other side of the world, seeing places that I loved burning up and all the damage to that extraordinary landscape and communities and to individuals who lost their lives. But this was the reaction of the Australian government, we’re not going to sacrifice the economy for environmental policies and I just want to share this slide in lieu of going through some of the reasons why we need to radically transform our economy because I know that folks who join these webinars are familiar with that so really just to position ourselves that it is the economic system that is the root cause of so many of the challenges facing the world and we can of course talk about some of the different contours of that in the discussion later.

But what we’re working on now is this idea of a wellbeing economy, an economy that makes enough room for everybody, that takes care of everybody, and that delivers a healthy environment, so it’s about social justice on a healthy planet. And I want to talk about what goes into that, I should say we’re not particularly dogmatic about the term, we’ve landed into it partly because our work with Lorenzo, it’s seems to be a really inclusive term that folk in a lot of different areas of interest and emphasis feel they can connect to so it’s quite a broad term and we’re not dogmatic in thinking that it needs to be the only term that people use and we see a lot of cousin concepts in things like the solidarity economy, the doughnut economy, a regenerative economy, they all speak to, at their most basic core, that we need to have the economy serving humanity rather than the other way around. If you think about what is the nature of that economic system that puts humanity at the forefront, you can get a sense of what that is if you read all the amazing literature of development scholarship, scholars like … Manfred Max Neef, …, Lorenzo Fioramonti himself, if you look at the texts of great religions, if you listen to conversations with folk when you sit down with people wherever they are in the world and have a conversation with them about what really matters to them, not when you’re asking them in a quick moment in an opinion poll survey on shopping habits but when people are given a chance and the time to reflect on what most matters to them, across the world you get a very similar emphasis about purpose, dignity, relationships, family, security of income, sufficiency of income, not footballer type salaries but sufficiency, essentially having enough and in my work in the past I have been fortunate enough to be part of some of those projects and really having conversations with people in very different parts of the world and it’s quite extraordinary that innate humanness that connects us all. And of course even down to neuroscience, when you look at some of the brain scans that neuroscientists do on our brains on what makes us light up, it’s when we’re cooperating, it’s when we’re being generous.

So neuroscience, when you look at the brain scans of people, there’s again commonality about what makes us, there are quarters of our brain that show us when we’re happy or content, it’s also when the stress hormone cortisol is not racing around, when we’re prepared to fight or flight, it’s when we’re feeling secure, when we have a sense of purpose, again when we’re cooperating. So you put all of that together and you talk to all the amazing organisations that are part of this movement and at the Wellbeing Economy Alliance we really collated our ,and all the work that our respective members are doing, there’s over 150 members now of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and so we distilled them down into 5 WEALL needs, the 5 needs that our economy needs to focus on and deliver and so I’ll just race through them in no particular order because they’re all important and we can’t trade one off for another but this is what emerged from that crowdsourcing from our members and I hope that this will be intuitive to people. The sense that all humans need connection, that sense of belonging, we need to repurpose our institutions so they serve the common good. It’s about participation and ensuring that people are actively involved and that our economies are locally rooted and generating from the community up rather than waiting and crossing our fingers for economic benefits to trickle down from an extractive economy. It’s of course about nature, a regenerative natural world and also recognising the embeddedness of our economy and society in the natural world rather than the other way around. It’s about fairness, it’s about ensuring that we attend to all of the injustices, vertical and horizontal so not just economic inequalities but those of race, gender and disability and so on that also to massively reduce that enormous gap between the richest and poorest and also ensuring that everyone has dignity, helping people have basic needs, ensuring that they have purpose and dignity at their very heart. But essentially these needs, connection, participation, nature, fairness and dignity are at its core what a wellbeing economy is about and the shorthand how I explain it is that it’s essentially about social justice on a healthy planet. So how do we go about building an economy that’s in service of those needs? Well, I wanted to just take a look back over the last few decades, this is an entirely arbitrary, not at all systematic glance over the last few decades over some of the moments, and I’ve pulled it together really to just illustrate that this is a movement that has long roots and that has been building momentum for several decades. You’ll probably all have other events or moments that you’d add to this list so it’s not scientific at all but it’s just a sense that there is a bit of momentum building behind this and so I start back with of course in 1968 over 50 years ago Robert Kennedy’s speech on GDP, I’m sure most folks have read it, if you haven’t listened to it on youtube with the volume turned up it’s really worth doing because it’s one of the most poetic tyrades against GDP that is possible to imagine but of course just a few years later we had the Club of Rome publishing their Limits to Growth report and of course that puts its finger very squarely at economic growth as the root cause of so many of the challenges that they were predicting the limits that our world would be brought up against and all of the science and analysis that has been testing some of their predictions keeps proving that what they called their main story, their ‘business as usual’ story has been on track so they’ve been proved that they were right with a lot of their predictions.

That same year though in Bhutan, that tiny little kingdom in between India and China, had the king declare that Gross National Happiness is more important than GDP and I’m happy to talk about what Bhutan has been doing later if that’s interesting to folk. And then race forward to many decades, of course we had the Global Financial Crisis when a lot of us thought that this is a disruption, that surely we cannot go back to business as usual, this is the economic upheaval when political leaders will wake up and take notice and realise that it’s time to transform our economies and of course we were sorely wrong with our hope and so a year later this is the report that was commissioned by then president Sarkozy of France led by nobel prize winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Martin Sen, Jean-Paul Fitoussi and others called the Commission on Measuring Progress and that really caused a bit of a shot in the arm to the nascent beyond GDP movement, it was a very powerful report that folks often reference in terms of importance of getting our measures of progress right. I think one thing that’s really interesting is that they’ve really encouraged dialogue and conversations rather than just having a few folks in a room and perhaps in an academic corridor and dictating what progress and the measures of progress should be against, something I’d love to chat about later if there’s time. A couple of years later we had in the UN led by Costa Rica and Bhutan a high level agreement on a New Development Paradigm, nothing seemed to come of that and yet there were all these countries in the UN signing up to the need for a new development paradigm. A couple of years later they of course again all signed up to something, the Sustainable Development Goals, love them or hate them or recognise their caveats and that their broad and perhaps better than nothing, they were in a way a whole load of countries saying we need different measures and different targets. Couple of years later, 2 years ago, this was perhaps an update of that Sarkozy report, this was the report led again by Joseph Stiglitz and others at the OECD on measuring economic progress and what they did in part of that report was look back and what had come after the global financial crisis and they said that what governments from around the world had done was pay too much attention to increasing GDP and that led to policies of austerity in order to get depths down and so on and that did so much damage to people’s financial security that led to some of the political ruptures that we’re seeing today. We can have a conversation about whether you feel that that’s a good analysis or not.

That same year the Wellbeing Economy Alliance was launched and also at the same conference where the OECD report was launched the Wellbeing Economy Governments Partnership was launched and again I’m going to come back to that. That same year we had, led by Greta, young people coming out of their classrooms every Friday and saying to their political leaders enough of this, we’re scared for our future, we’re scared for our colleagues, our friends from around the world who are already being hit by environmental damage. A year later we had over 200 academics write to the European Union and say you know that growth and stability pact that you have, we need to get rid of that and have a wellbeing and sustainability pact and we need to kick out king GDP and crown queen wellbeing. That same year New Zealand famously launched what is being described as the world’s first wellbeing budget, not sure that’s quite true, I think Bhutan might have something to say about that. And that same year the Finnish presidency in the seat of the European Union led on the Economy of Wellbeing, I’ve got a frowny face there because I’m not quite convinced by some of the framing and again I’m happy to dig into that later in our discussion. And then of course earlier this year that Covid-19 pandemic hit. So this is just to give a sense of this momentum that this conversation has long roots, there’s decades of scholarship, ecological economists, feminist economists, all sorts of scholars and activists and political players who are really starting to point towards recognition that we need to do some massive changes in our economic system, the tweaking around the edges is no longer good enough and so one of the key changes I think we need to see is reset the purpose of what our economy is about and no longer is it good enough to assume an increase in GDP that will correlate to increased quality of life because we have mountains of evidence to show that those assumptions are breaking down. And I also think we need to move our conversation on from just growing the economy and then leave it to the work of social policy, redistribution, charitable activities and welfare policies, to fix the damage that a growing economy did.

At the moment we’re in a terrain, and this is almost the social democratic consensus of the last few decades where we celebrate redistribution, the gaps between the rich and the poor just a tiny little bit, those of us working in any poverty organisation or charities that are working on social justice, that’s been a cause for celebration, that’s been seen as a win. And yet what we don’t do is stop and ask nearly enough why the gap between the richest and poor has opened up so much in the first place. And so for the Wellbeing Economy it would be about saying that it’s time to get the economy to be doing more of the heavy lifting, saying no longer it’s good enough to wait until 5 o’clock in the afternoon and redistribute or do that reactive downstream spending that is a sign of our failure to help deliver good lives for people and some examples of how to deliver that are through this quite ugly term that I think is quite an exciting concept of predistribution, essentially designing market outcomes so that generates more equality which is about workers owning their businesses, they get a much greater share of the value that they create rather than it being stipend up to remote rentiers, it’s about the foundational economy and community wealth building, it’s about full cost accounting so we’re taking account of the full damage to the environment and possible social benefit and taking this into account when we cost and price things, a whole wide plethora of changes that we should see. On our website we have a matrix, and it’s rather simple but it’s really useful because it’s an at a glance view of how the old paradigm deals with and responds to a whole suite of different areas of the economy and social life and the environment and then down the next column we have how a Wellbeing Economy might respond to that and it’s a live document so you can write to us and add some suggestions and add some additional detail and we’ll incorporate that in our matrix so I’d encourage you to dip into that and have a look at it because it gives you a sense of the changes we need to see.

I want to share some chinks of light and I want to take you to a place just up the road from here in Glasgow to a town called Linwood, and Linwood is the classic story in places like the UK where in the post-war era they had a thriving economy, they had a car factory making Chrysler cars and the town was built up around that employment and all the sort of ricochet effects of that downstream supply chain that went with that, and then the Chrysler factory shut and what came in is a fairly familiar story of post-industrial decline. We had the town centre that had been built become covered in graffiti and rubbish as shops shut down and in the early 2000s a company came in and brought that town centre called … Holdings and instead of regenerating the town centre and offering employment, it increased the rents so it just kicked out even more of the tenants there and the shopkeepers and so on and so things went even worse. And then a few years later, one of the largest supermarkets here in the UK, a company called Tesco came in and they said we’ll buy the town centre and by then the people of Linwood were so exhausted and so fed up with seeing this pretty depressing town centre, not having anywhere to go where they could buy their groceries, they said fantastic. It was later revealed, … Holdings had been a front company for Tesco and what happened is that what was imposed on the community was, or attempted to be imposed on the community, was a model of economic development that was extractive, that was going to price out the local community, and didn’t align with what local people wanted. And so people like Kirsty Flannigan here and a group of local women basically said no, we’re not going to have this, that economic model that’s being imposed on us is not right for us and it doesn’t suit what we really need and it doesn’t align with what is necessary in Linwood. And so they created a whole lot of consultations and spent a lot of time talking with people in Linwood, really developing an alternative vision for the economy in Linwood and they’ve since set up a whole suite of amazing businesses.

Now, they won’t use any of the terms that I’ve used like community wealth-building or foundational or predistribution or cooperatives or so on, they’re just getting on and creating economic activity that puts back into the local community so they’re developing a football pitch, they’re seeking out money to develop a cafe and theatre, they’re planting, they’re developing their local area through flowers, they’re creating a choir which they couldn’t do right now due to covid but they’re creating community activities where people can come together and they’re committed to being a living-wage employer, they’re very inclusive and flat within their organisations so they’re almost about stakeholder and businesses, they’ve got an amazing fruit and veg store here called Roots of Lindwood where they’re getting local businesses to procure from them. And so they’re just really rolling up their sleeves and saying we’re going to regenerate our economy on our terms, for us, the way we want it to be regenerated and they’re quite extraordinary I think and they epitomise why we need a wellbeing economy in the face of the corporate imposition but also what a wellbeing economy starts to look like.

At WEALL we had a conference at the beginning of the year, we’re calling this series of conferences the WEALL’s Wealth of Nations 2.0 and we invited Kirsty to come and speak at that and she outlined really what that story and that challenge that they’ve been up against and she said that ‘it took a lot of guts for us 6 women to get off our backsides and and take on those corporate giants and they tell the story of being reduced to tears when they’ve gone into meetings with local authorities or businesses and just been intimidate because they didn’t feel like they had the degrees or fancy qualifications that others did and they just kept going. And so they say to others, they’re advice is not to get distracted by the no entry signs and crossroads. And she went on to say what does wellbeing in communities like Linwood look like? And Kirsty tells this beautiful story that was a real moment for her when 12 year olds in Linwood came to her and said can we have a key to open this football pitch that the Linwood Community Development Trust had developed. And she said that that was a real moment because it showed that the local community felt connected and felt ownership of those economic activities. And she says that wellbeing in communities is about equality, empowerment and ownership and is the opportunity to generate your own income. She also says importantly it’s not about letting the blockers get in the way, it’s not about doffing the cap to those who have their own agenda, and it’s certainly not about asking for permission to bring about change. I’m going to show you a little video that they have created, it’s just a couple of minutes long but it’s about how they have responded to the Covid crisis, you’ll get a few images of the Linwood communities and I really hope that this works.

I just think it’s lovely. Partly how extraordinarily proud they are of how they’ve been able to change their business and respond to what their local community needed and to keep their business activities according to what people are needing right now and being so generous with their provision. They’re quite an extraordinary group in the face of so much push back against an economic system that doesn’t want the sort of economic model that Kirsty and her colleagues are putting forward. So they’re amazing and there’s a write up of the Linwood story on our website if anyone is interested in learning a little bit more.

But Ashish also asked me to tell you about the Wellbeing Economy Alliance so I’m also going to tell you briefly about how we’re going about trying to put it all together. A lot of you will probably be familiar with this multi-level system perspective by Frank Geels but essentially what WEALL is about is recognising that change has to happen on all levels of the system. It has to be that niche level of different community initiatives, different businesses undertaking different practices, it has to be at that meso level of policy regime and it also has to be about how do we define the purpose of our economic system at that macroeconomic level. And at WEALL we’re not the rockstars like groups like Linwood are, or like progressive businesses or like amazing community organisations, what we’re wanting to do is connect them with each other, tell the story about them, and essentially be those arrows between the layers and the players in the economic system. And so what we’re really trying to do is help build towards, and generate, a new economic system. And we see the roots of that is about our knowledge and our narratives and so knowledge work, we’ve got an amazing network of incredible scholars and research fellows and what we’re trying to do is synthesise all the knowledge that is out there. There’s lots written about why we need a different economic system, there’s lots of practices about how we go about changing and what change would look like but it’s often dispread, it’s behind academic payrolls, it’s in using often obtuse academic language, it’s in expensive books, it’s in practice notes, it’s in grey literature and what we’re wanting to do is help synthesise that and bring it together in an accessible and compelling way that really proves that there is a coherent body about daring practice about a wellbeing economy. We’re also wanting to work with artists and storytellers and even advertising executives to help us open up folks’ imaginations about the possibility of a different economic system because for so long we’ve been told that there is no alternative and so we want to use all of that creativity to help have different narratives about the feasibility and the desirability of a different economic system so folks feels excited by it rather than hanging on for dear life to the devil that they know. And we’re using those two pieces of work to feed and nurture, what we’re calling the powerbase work, and that’s our membership, like I said we’ve got over 150 members, they are so diverse in their areas of interest, in their strategies, where they are in the world, in how radical they are in terms of their ambition for system change, but our mantra is togetherness above agreement. We’re really wanting to connect all of those amazing players and be more powerful by working together. We also have a WEALL’s citizen’s movement, where anyone, even if they’re not attached to an organisation around the world, can connect and share and be part of this movement. We’ve got the WEALL governance partnership which I’ll speak about in a minute, and we’ve got local hubs. So I mentioned the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland, that’s a local iteration of that global movement. WEALL Canada is bubbling up, WEALL Australia is bubbling up, WEALL New Zealand and I was talking to some folks just recently in Ireland who are keen to create WEALL Ireland. And essentially it’s about that collaboration across sectors to work together on system change rather than being content with sticking plasters on the damage which the current economic system does.

I mentioned the Wellbeing Economy Governments Partnership and this is a project that Lorenzo and I have been working on for a while and it’s essentially about connecting governments and government officials who are wanting to put wellbeing at the heart of their economic policy-making. It’s about demonstrating that there is a different way of national success that’s not just about GDP and also about recognising that in this era we need new champions, new role models, and not those that are purely described as being good or powerful purely by the size of their GDP. So this is now led by Scotland, in collaboration with New Zealand, Iceland, Wales has just joined and we’re hoping that a few more governments will be coming on board in the coming months and years. I’m happy to tell you more about that. If you want more of a story about that, again there’s more on our website. Also, it’s worth watching the first minister’s of Scotland TED talk that she did a year ago, it was watched over 1million times in the first week and she talks about WEGO at the heart of her ambition for what economic policy and for what Scotland needs to be about. So that was quite a moment for us, seeing the first minister do her TED talk on our project.

Essentially WEALL is about supporting those pioneers, people across the world who are rolling up their sleeves and demonstrating what a Wellbeing Economy is about. We want to support them, connect them, and we want to amplify their work so that others see that it is feasible and desirable to move in a different direction. This is almost a cartoon version of this idea which political scientists talk about, the Overton Window, this is cartoon sent to me by a friend in Australia who is working on equal marriage, this idea that we need to move that window of what is publicly acceptable so that politicians will respond, so that they won’t be afraid that their bucking their demand amongst their voters. Of course it’s not that linear and you can see how things can go backwards and are not that simple so we need to keep fighting for some of these things, but I think with the Beyond GDP movement, 10 years ago we had to start every conversation with a civil servant explaining how terrible GDP was and why. I don’t need to do that in my conversations with politicians or civil servants anymore, most of them get it. So we’ve moved up that Overton Window, we’ve still got a long way to go but I think it just reminds us that it’s a hard battled and that we need to support each other in pushing away through that time when we’re dismissed as being ridiculous up to when things become more acceptable and are taken on by the mainstream. This is our theory of change, that if we work together, we can achieve extraordinary things. And we have a lot of fun doing so. This is a snapchat of when the Wellbeing Economy Alliance folk got together, this is in Malaga at the New Economy Social Innovation Forum (NESIF) and you can see we have a lot of fun while we’re trying to change the economic system, and I want you all to feel that you’re really welcome to join WEALL and to be part of this. Over to you Lorenzo, that’s enough from me.

V: Fantastic, thank you very much Katherine.

L: That was great Katherine, you did a very good job and I’m not going to add much more to what you’ve done in a very exhausted and inspiring way, I must say, this journey has been extremely spectacular, and full of setbacks, but also full of incredible achievements, and I think our message is very simple, even the decision to call this the Wellbeing Economy is based on something that anyone can understand. What’s the purpose of having an economy in the first place? Why have humans in history developed a system of rules and exchange? What was the purpose? The purpose was to live better. This is something basis that students don’t even learn anymore at 101 Economics at university level. But this is the basics, economic historians know this very well. The main purpose of the economy, the economy doesn’t exist, the economy is just a board game, we play this, and it’s a relatively efficient way to live a better life, to make sure we’re all coordinating our efforts and increasing our quality of life. Except that it isn’t that thing anymore. Somehow we have taken the means, rather than the end, and the means was growing the economy because initially we thought that growing the levels of production and consumption this would result in better living standards. But this in physics, in any natural process, there’s always something called balance, and when you exceed certain balances, whatever you do may actually have side effects that are likely to overcome, and cancel out, any positive effect that it may have had in the first place. And this is exactly what has happened across the world and now we’re no longer asking ourselves whether we’re living better, whether our quality of life has increased. We simply assume that this thing has to go on because it’s taken on a life of its own. And so wellbeing is a very simple principle, it’s something that everyone can understand, where I am now, you can understand it in Glasgow, in Panama, in any remote community in the most incredibly far away village of Africa or Oceania. You can understand the concept of living well, of what being satisfied is, and when you look at scientific research, everyone tells us that the wellbeing of humans is a bi-product of two things: good health, and a good environment, we, as social animals and members of mother nature, we tend to forget that we are members of mother nature and that mother nature is not something separate from us, it’s something we have to deal with, we are part of it.

So we are so much part of it that when mother nature suffers, we suffer too. There’s plenty of research that shows the healing power of ecosystems, how much better and faster people can heal when they’re exposed to nature. Take two people with the same disease, put one in a hospital room facing a parking lot, and another in another room facing the garden, you bet that the one facing the garden is going to heal twice as fast as the other, because there is a wellbeing effect of being close in proximity with ecosystems. We’re like insects, we’re like any other type of animal, we need to be part of this because we are it. And the other is social connections, we’re social animals, we’ve known this from the early days of philosophy. We’re social animals, we cannot thrive in isolation. We cannot thrive separated from others. We need others to live well. Now, the growth economy as we have it now, has done exactly the opposite. It has made us more and more isolated from others, it has made us more and more isolated from nature, and it has impoverished nature, and it has in many cases impoverished our social connections because of rising inequalities, because of the segregation of production, because even those with money have to protect themselves behind iron bars and security gates and so on, and the lack of trust is so widespread these days in all societies. So this is something very important that I’d like to emphasise, this is not something like old fashioned conventional recipes that would be cut out for certain countries like this is only applicable to rich countries, or this is only applicable to poor countries, or middle-income countries. This concept is applicable to anyone, because anyone can benefit from having an economy which is smarter. The Wellbeing Economy is a smarter economy. As Katherine said, the side effects of our growth economy have been incredible, and have been extremely detrimental to people’s wellbeing. The first cartoon of the family staring at the wildfires in Australia is typical. It reminds me of another cartoon I had in my office in South Africa, two poor people living in shacks, and the wife washing the clothes in the river and the husband reading a second-hand economic newspaper and telling her well you should be happy that the economic fundamentals are all in place, so living in destitution but yet the economy is fine. Destroying the environment but look at this, the stock exchange is going up. How is that possible? Because of this complete disconnect between the two things. But Covid is helping us realise that these two things cannot be disconnected. When you put people’s health in danger, your economy collapses too. When you undermine the environment, your economy will collapse as well. Eventually you’ll be left with nothing. So Covid is a great opportunity to replace people’s health and our connection to nature at the core of our economic policy. That’s the whole point. It’s not to keep it separate, it’s not, as Katherine said, to keep it to the third sector, to the non-profit to do it. The purpose is to put it within the core structures of our economic policy making. This is the reason why one day I got completely dissatisfied with being an intellectual, an economic historian, writing books, so I became a member of parliament, I became a minister, and I’m now starting my own party because I think that that it’s up to us to make this narrative more appealing to everyone, to understand that anyone can gain out of this. With this I conclude, there are probably people who are sceptical about this and think that this is all lies, how do you make money in such an economy? In a wellbeing economy, you do make money, you try not to lose money which is what we’re doing every day. The current economy creates so many side effects, so much damage, that when we do the accounting correctly, as Katherine said, you realise that a lot of companies that are making profits for themselves, are generating huge losses for society. That means more taxes to be paid, much more need for state intervention, rescue for sectors of the economy that have gone bust, and more money to be invested to fix the environment. Look at what the Covid-19 crisis generated in terms of economic losses, much more than the profits put together from all the companies in the last 20 years, there wouldn’t be enough to fix what has been lost because of covid. Covid did not come from Mars, it came from our obsession with destroying forests, we destroyed forests, occupied pristine ecosystems and what happened is that we interfered with processes, complex processes that have been going on for millions of years of pathogens that have never seen a human being and become used to bats and so on and when a human being gets in, it dies. Covid is a representation of the stupidity of our destructive economy that thinks that only what is transformed and manipulated by humans is valuable. So the Wellbeing Economy is not an economy of deprivation, it’s an economy of increasing your quality of production, increasing your quality of consumption. It’s less an economy of more, and it’s more an economy of better. We have the idea that the economy grows when more is produced, Katherine and I, and many other colleagues are saying that an economy should grow when we produce better, when we create things that last, when we have dignified jobs, when we manage to avoid or diminish all the side effects of industrial production, polluters should pay because that’s a loss for everyone, that’s an important component of a wellbeing economy, so companies are incentivised to change their production models, currently no one asks companies to pay for the damage. It’s not an economy of deprivation, it’s an economy of production, but better production, of consumption, but better consumption, of realising that local companies and building local resilience is an economic advantage. Whatever job is created by a local company is a much more solid job than a job that can be changed or shifted by a decision made in a board room on the other side of the planet. So it’s an economy that realises that the negative effects must be minimised and the positive effects must be recognised, and at present in our growth economy, we don’t do either. We give a facelift to all of the companies that are destroying and creating damage and we call them national assets and appreciate their profits as a sign of progress. When it comes to small production systems, we believe they’re immature, less competitive, we consider them lesser than multinational corporations when actually it should be the other way around. By changing our cost-accounting systems we can increase the power, the voice, and the public appreciation that we have towards small and medium enterprises and the vast range of economic actors that are creating real wellbeing at the local level.

V: Fantastic Lorenzo, to both of you I think you’ve been very comprehensive and targeted in issues that we need to think about. We already have quite a lot of questions so how we’re going to run the next part of the session is, I will go through the questions as people are putting them on the chat and present them to the two of you to make some input and comment. And again, encouraging everyone to add your comments and questions. So to start off with, our first question, can Katherine comment on the Preston Model of Community Wealth Building?

K: Yes, happy to, this is essentially an idea that it’s no longer good enough for communities of place, communities of geography, to sit and cross their fingers and hope that some crumbs will trickle down from the rich man’s table, to be dependent on an extractive economic model, it’s about saying what is the economic activity that is already happening locally? What are the economic actors that aren’t going to go up and leave? Like local government, hospitals, schools, and how can we move their spending so that it generates local economic multipliers? Directing procurement to local businesses, thinking about questions around ownership, worker cooperatives, community cooperatives, community development trusts like Linwood, and it’s essentially about generating money locally, so there’s a lot of work going on around this and often it’s supported by one of our members, the democracies collaborative next systems project comes out of Cleveland, there’s a lot of really great work there. In a way, it happens in a lot of great communities elsewhere, but some of the more well-known examples are Cleveland, Ohio, Preston as Gills was asking about, in the Northwest of England, where the local council leader said we have to do better than this and he’s really about redirecting local spending to kick-off multipliers and support local businesses, to keep employment local. I’m really proud to tell you all that one of the Scottish local councils, a place called North Ayreshire has just joined the Wellbeing Economy Alliance so it’s one of our first local authorities, and the first in Scotland to join, and that has been an area that has been really inspired by the possibility of community wealth building, and they have a task force and are injecting a lot of effort into this idea of community wealth building. So it’s a really exciting example. Would Gills like to add any examples or colour, if that’s something he’s been close to?

Gills: Yes, I’m located in Newcastle upon Tyne so we had a campaign last year where there was a mayoral, the North of Tyne Authority, created and there was an election campaign, so Jamie Driscoll who is a well known democractic socialist activist around here stood, basically on a Preston Model platform, and he’s now been the mayor of the new combined authority for a year. And if people are interested, he has been doing the utmost within the limits of his post to push all of the ideas of the Preston Model, and he’s also extremely concerned about how we address climate change so it links to the transition of the greening of the economy. So I just wanted to add that there are lots of these experiences and it’s about how people reconstruct their life and relocalise their economies, take back ownership, an economy of wellbeing. Thanks.

K: Thanks Gills, great to hear about that.

V: The next question is looking personally and reflecting and it’s from Polly who asks, how do you stay personally hopeful knowing that the status quo is so powerful? They’re from the US and have been quite discouraged and depressed by politics and economics, capitalist and consumerist economies are blinding to so many. And the second part of the question, how do you suggest presenting this need for change to people? What has worked for you to mobilise others? Lorenzo, you’ve already touched on this a little bit in terms of your participation in politics but maybe you could say more?

L: I want to be honest, I sense the same sense of despair and at times dissatisfaction and anger, and I think it’s fair because we see what’s going on and the problem is that we have shifted - I’m looking at the cartoon that Katherine shared of the stairwell with the different stages that you go through - and then it’s true, that there are setbacks and usually when you push hard you get to a point of acceptability, almost inevitably, at one point everyone agrees with you. Importantly, as Katherine reminds everyone, we’ve been saying these things for decades, before us at least our mentors said it since the 1950s and 60s. Imagine how frustrated, those that are still alive, should be. The problem now is not whether we’re moving in the right direction or not, I think by large we are moving in the right direction, it’s the pace at which we’re moving because the damage has been so tremendously deep that it’s not enough to be simply happy with incremental change, now we need drastic revolutionary transformation, otherwise we’re not going to be on time. It’s a bit like with women’s rights, certainly the condition of women now is better than it was 100 years ago, but that’s not enough for women to be satisfied, because also 100 years have passed and their expectations have increased, they’re no longer satisfied, and rightly so, with being slightly better than women 100 years ago. Now they want full respect as they actually deserve and I think the same is for these ideas. So it’s totally fine to be frustrated but at the end of the day, we need to act as if there was still time and as if things can be changed. What’s the point of simply sitting at home and being upset with it?

It’s not an academic answer that I’m giving, but I want to tell you something quickly, the fact that just a few years ago I was a professor in South Africa and a few months later the deputy minister and the minister for education in a G7 country, and that I could sit next to Macron and the Trump administration within a matter of a few months tells us that the political system is more permeable than we think. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but I’m saying that when we try something that we think is impossible, maybe it’s not so impossible. And when I met these guys and saw how flimsy their ideas are, how small they are, that gave me hope that maybe someone smart with good ideas could really make a difference in today’s world. The Macrons, and Trumps and Boris Johnsons of the world are not better than us, many of them are so stupid, their ideas so flimsy so this is just to say that perhaps politics these days is more permeable than we think. I may be wrong, but it’s worth a shot.

V: Katherine, do you want to add anything?

K: Thanks Lorenzo, yes I think it’s a really good question that I ponder about a lot and it depends to be honest whether I’m hopeful or not but I will confess that there are times where I despair. It’s often not so much when the system bites back because it does and Lorenzo and I, and probably a lot of people on this call can share some more stories about that and that experience, I also get despairing when those of us who are part of this wider, diverse movement, default into attacking each other more than linking our arms and embracing our diversity and focus on a bigger effort, I think there’s a real risk in splintering in the movement and taking purist positions that mean we don’t focus on what we do actually agree on and we take the easy option to attack those of us who are ultimately, I don’t want to use the word side, but a part of the same effort. That’s when I do loose hope and get discouraged. I find it easier to be helpful when I’ve recently had a conversation with the WEALL youth movement who are just awesome, and these are young people. I think about my parents’ generation who grew up in the 70s when the golden age of capitalism for the rich, industrialised North was crumbling and the Neoliberal paradigm was emerging and starting to take hold in countries like where I grew up in Australia and where I live now, the UK, and so it became the new normal for them. Young people today have grown up where the new normal for them is environmental breakdown and catastrophe, and lack of job security, and the fact that their living standards will be worse than their parents’, and where I find hope is in hanging out with these amazing young people who are rolling up their sleeves and working together to collaborate for change and they’re bright, and smart, and fun, and attentive to inclusion, and so careful with processes and ensuring that voices are heard, and they’re just extraordinary.

But I do confess that it often feels like two steps forward, one step back, but a women who I spoke to on the road, who since the beginning of Covid has been putting up small quotes in her tiny front garden, so on my evening walk I find an excuse to walk past and see which quote she’s put out, and I met her the other day and was chatting to her for a long time about her work, and what she told me was that the quote she’d had up a couple of weeks ago was that two steps forward, one step back is a cha cha cha and that was at a time when I was really frustrated with a debate in Scotland. Sometimes here in Scotland it feels as though we are moving forward and that was a particular week where I was really angry because it felt as though the debate in Scotland was going back, so that was hopeful. I want to share another quote, and this is Schumacher who said do we ask if change is coming fast enough? and he said, yes is to lead to complacency, to answer no is to lead to despair and what we need to do is to put those complexities behind us and just get on with making the change. So that would be my sense of joining up with others who are working on it to stay hopeful because I guess that’s how you’ll keep that sustenance going. In terms of the other aspect, the question around how to present these issues, it depends on the audience, one of the things we already talked about is the enormous cost of the damage that is being done, the collateral damage of this economic system, and if I’d had long enough to talk about some of the failures, I would’ve talked about this idea of failure demand in social policy. Ecological economists will talk about defensive expenditure, Latouche, the French degrowth economists talks about the consolation god industry, what Lorenzo was describing, how much money we spend if we’re lucky enough to have those resources, consoling ourselves from stressed and alienated and precarious lives. And you put all that together and there’s failure demand, which is police forces, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, remedial education, top up wages, and this is of course a global North perspective, if you add that up, the apparent need for growth is actually the sticking of clusters of an inhumane economic system, and that’s where our social policy has been stuck, we can outline just how inefficient it is - this is an economy that is failing on its own terms. The other way to talk about it is to point to all the examples across the world. There is no correlation between wisdom and doing things differently and GDP, so there are heaps of examples from around the world, and being able to point to them, whether it’s businesses whose purpose it is to give social environmental returns, or community projects or to point to the government policies that we need to see happening, because there are some of them happening. I think just saying that this isn’t a step into the unknown, we need to know what this looks like, we see it in microcosmos. And the other point is just to connect with people on a human level, in a book published last year called The Economics of Arrival, we quote a Sting song from the 80s during the Cold War era, when Sting was singing ‘I hope Russians love their children too’, and hope for your children to live in a good world and to live in a world where they have opportunity and they’re safe I’m sure is a universal trait, start there, start at that connection of humanness. There’s a lot of research done by organisations working on attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers about how to have conversations so groups like Global Justice Now have got a lot of literature about those conversations and Common Cause, worth looking at.

V: Katherine, just as a follow up question, is there anything actually written that is able to share this wellbeing economy narrative at school level?

K: That’s a good question, yes there are some cool books, and Lorenzo who has young kids might share some. There’s one called The Lorax which is a really good metaphor, there’s a lot of literature from the Global Citizenship Movement that some of the anti-poverty and environmental organisations will have pulled together for teachers. Social justice and environmental questions are relevant, that material for teachers is relevant, they may not explicitly use the word or term economic system change, but they’re part of it. Lorenzo, chip in.

L: Vasna, if I can add, when I was Minister of Education, my government introduced the teaching of climate change and sustainable development in a very wellbeing economy fashion, so not just studying a subject but practicing a subject, from grade 1 until the end of high school as a mandatory subject. So Italy started this year, it’s the first country in the world that has made it mandatory. But since we did that, you can’t imagine how many calls, how many letters, we have received from everywhere, especially India, the Indian government, states, were so excited about learning what Italy was doing. Canada, England, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Greta Thunberg and others got involved because they thought that it was a very effective way of turning a complex idea into something that people can relate to very easily, and then using the youth because of course they’ll be the target group, as Katherine was saying, this new generation is eager, is seeing the negative effects, the impacts of the economic system on their daily life, probably you’re looking at the future with a very dim look thinking that their life, for the first time in history, will be worse than their predecessors, they are very keen to engage with these new ideas. So I would encourage everyone who is following this conversation to look at what Italy is doing, to try and connect with me or Katherine if you need help, I’m doing the same in Germany, the reason why I’m here now is that there’s an organisation called the Ecological Institute, which is doing exactly the same as a promoter for education for sustainable development transformation in schools in Germany, as a way of dealing with these issues. Because at the end of the day it is a cultural revolution, what we need is to change our way of thinking about economic growth and progress and the kind of society we want. And there are more and more books that I’ve just proposed to Bloomsbury in the UK, to start a book series for pupils, for school children, small books about what can you do to make your society a better place, to change the economy to save the environment, to practice sustainable development and so on, based on the model that we have created in Italy just a year ago.

V: That’s great. So changing gears a little bit, the next two questions I’m going to take together. One is from Steven who asks, can a capitalist economy be compatible with wellbeing? And related to that is a question, are you projecting the continuation of the capitalist economy basis as survival necessary for your model of wellbeing? I’m not sure I’ve quite got that right those were the questions, if you could comment on the capitalist system. Ashish: Vasna, if I could just add two additional questions about the use of we as language because that’s what capitalists also do, that we are all happy and that we whatever, so those two people Matthew and Vicky, who have asked who is the we that we are talking about?

V: Great, I don’t know which of you would like to start?

K: I’m happy to start, and an entirely fair shout around the use of we. It’s something that we, here I go again, something I should be careful about because there are huge inequalities in who is putting the most pressure on the planet. Lorenzo and I were very much told to focus on the future and often I show a lot of slides, I show a lot of the data on the inequalities in terms of consumption and who is responsible for environmental pressure, issues around political capture, the bilinear class and how that’s really dominating the rules of the game, and makes it so problematic for everyone else. In terms of capitalism, I’d say it depends how you’re defining capitalism, and one thing that I’ve really noticed over the last couple of years with this work is that there are quite different definitions and conceptualisations of capitalism, and I don’t know if other who are based in the US would find this, but for some partner and colleagues based in the US it seems often capitalism is equated with markets, but as a political economist based here in Europe, when I think about capitalism I think about power and ownership and economic rents and who is it that is owning the productive processes, and their power over others. And so, if we’re defining capitalism as markets, I would say there would still be markets in a Wellbeing Economy, I’d love to see worker cooperatives for example exchanging and selling with other worker cooperatives and producer cooperatives and community cooperatives, but what I would not want to see is those extremes in inequalities in power and narrow levels of ownership where you get very few people in that rentier economy of people basically able to treat others as just in time inventory, and an input to the production process. Lorenzo would probably want to add to that but that’s my sense of it, that it depends on how we’re defining it.

L: I agree with you Katherine, and very quickly, I’m not going to get into a conversation about whether it’s capitalism or post-capitalism because these conversations have been there for years and more intelligent people than me have failed at facing and destroying capitalism hands on. So, what I think we should do is to circumvent capitalism and erode the theory of value it is based upon. Rather than saying I am an anti-capitalist, let’s look at the value that capitalism is based upon, and now it’s based on one simple theory of value that says that profits and financial capital is what really matters, the rest doesn’t matter. We change that, we use other types of capital, in the wellbeing economy we believe that the most important capital that you may need in a society is human, social, and natural capital. You do that and capitalism disappears the way we know it and becomes another form of capitalism or something else. So what I’m trying to say is that rather than fighting this battle on an ideological ground, use stealth, be smart, if you’re thinking of getting out there and proposing an overt anti-capitalist agenda, you’re not going to get support, people are not going to understand you, unfortunately. So my argument is, use the wellbeing economic framework, the narrative is not immediately anti-capitalist but it’s anti-capitalist, or for a new form of capitalism in its own theory of value, and you will have the same effects, probably much more intelligently and efficiently than if you were to go out there and propose ideas that have been around for 20, 30, 40 years and haven’t really made major changes we’ve seen. And also, with this obsession with growth, I’m not against growth of wellbeing, happiness, social connections, having more friends, having more fun, but growth of material production and consumption which is just what bacteria does, capitalism as we know it is just as bad as socialism, I’m sorry but the socialists were not better, look at what they did, they measured themselves, their measures of success were also material production. We use GDP, the Soviets used an indicator called Imperial Production, so they were even more primitive in this because for them, a country would be as successful as the amount of stuff it produced, not even the amount of services or the amount of income, actually the number of things, more cars, more success, you can see this also these days, being the first to have the vaccine to show that you are smart, that you are better in doubt than anyone else. So, this is just to say that the wellbeing economy avoids the question of capitalism because it becomes a trap and it basically replaces capitalism with something else without capitalists even realising.

V: Just on that point, I want to raise a comment made about the central problem and source of our present crisis is that the mainstream economics discipline is not recognised by foundations or by a planet with physical limits so this is sort of part of the issue that we’re trying to address and challenge. Then, just moving on from there, I’d like to pick up a question by Arturo Escobar and if you could speak about the implications of the wellbeing economy for growth in the sense of the use of energy and materials and the metabolism of the economy, and about its relation to degrowth or in Latin America the idea of buen vivir? And then further to that is a question from Gills is that, to link the wellbeing economy to just transitions, the degrowth paradigm, and the green economy. So maybe if you can comment on that, links to degrowth, buen vivir, just transitions, green economy thinking.

K: Do you want to kick off Lorenzo?

L: Ok, so on the first part, universities are part of the problem, I want to emphasise that and if there are any academics listening to us, if there are politicians or people interested in changing how universities work, that would be a fundamental shift. We need to start teaching our students, actually not even teaching our students, but allowing them to learn in a way which is systemic, in a way in which is cross-cutting and transdisciplinary. We cannot afford to have economists who don’t understand anything about ecology or biology, we cannot afford to have engineers who have never studied how the environment works because their bridges, buildings, highways will have to be placed in the natural environment, and if you don’t do that you make a mistake, if you don’t understand floods, the biosphere, your infrastructure will not be resilient and we can’t afford to have many other disciplines. I think cognitive scientists call this learnt autism, you become so good at one thing but you ignore anything else, eventually you’re not intelligent, you’re simply a specialist in one thing, and the problem with economists is that these people then sit next to presidents, politicians, ministers and they give advice which can destroy lives because if they were in their own lab and destroying things and playing with lego I wouldn’t mind, but because they have such strong political power, we need them to be systems scientists, we can no longer have them only be concerned with one part of the whole, and this starts at universities. And so as Minister of Education and Research, another thing that we did was we did this for schools, teaching Sustainable Development, but for universities we decided to make the first refreshment of any discipline a lecture called lecture 0, whether you are an economist, a biologist, a medical doctor, you need to study Sustainable Development. You need to know what Sustainable Development is because it’s got to do with whatever you’re going to be studying next. You need to have an introduction to that thing because it gives you a perspective on how things hang together.

And regarding degrowth, buen vivir, just transitions, I think we’re moving in the same stream. When we came up with the idea of a wellbeing economy, we had conversations with our degrowth friends and colleagues and our argument was that degrowth is a significant and important critique of growth but we believe it will not necessarily be as successful as a political and economic agenda when you are doing something that is against something else. Rather than being a proposal, in political communication terms, it’s very hard to propose an agenda which is already against something established. You need to have a forward looking method and something that starts with de is hardly a forward looking message, it sounds like deprivation, it sounds like taking something away, rather than adding something, so that’s why the Wellbeing Economy is much more forward looking. In a Wellbeing Economy you want production, you want better production, in a Wellbeing Economy you want consumption, but you want consumption that makes sense, that doesn’t endanger your wellbeing, it’s not depriving people of things, it’s making people understand how taking care of things is so much more important than producing them and consuming them in the first place. And I think the buen vivir in South America is much closer to the idea of a Wellbeing Economy, buen vivir translates into living well, so it’s the same principle as wellbeing. So somehow this is our proposal, all these different streams that look at one segment find their coherence within a proposal of an economy that helps you live well. It’s a collage, it’s a collection to make way for coherence across a different set of streams all moving in the same direction, but not always talking to one another.

K: I have a couple of things to add from my perspective. Around the economics disciplines, I agree with Lorenzo that it’s very much which economists have the ear of government that is the problem. I mean there have been lots of economic scholars who are feminist economists, ecological economists, hetero-x economists for decades, who have acutally built evidence based on which this movement is standing on, but I think it’s the fact that it’s a very narrow cohort or tribe of economists who are whispering in the ears of politicans and shaping policy decisions that’s really worrying so I guess we need an opening up of those voices and that political advice. If anyone wants encouragement on that, we have one of our members who is the founder of an amazing students movement on Rethinking Economics, of economic students starting in Manchester, and it’s now a global movement and they came out of their classrooms and said to their lecturers stop teaching us this economics that doesn’t bear any resemblance to the real world, and they’re now engaging, creating curricula, they’re writing amazing books, they’re mobilising, they’re helping learn together, so have a look at Rethinking Economics’ work. In terms of the metabolism question, I’d also encourage you to look at friends of ours at the University of Leeds here in the UK, there’s a project called Living Well Within Limits, and it’s a big multi-year project with some of the smartest people I know who are doing the crunching of the numbers over what it is of the material inputs we need across a whole lot of provisioning systems to meet certain quality of life standards and how those standards emerge and so on, and it’s a really rich piece of work led by an amazing friend of ours called Julia Steinberger who has just moved to Vienna University, but have a look at the Living Well Within Limits project, it’s amazing.

And, just to agree with Lorenzo around degrowth, the analysis behind it of course is entirely sound, where I don’t run with it is the word and the pride in it being a missile term because honestly I don’t think we have time for missiles, I think if we’re going to have a chance at making the shifts that we need, we need people around the same table, even those we don’t like because we need to be able to help people change their minds, work around the blockers and build these collaborations so why I’m completely in awe of the degrowth movement and the scholarship behind it, it’s not a term I find useful in the conversations I have with, as Lorenzo has already talked about, with policy makers and with a wider audience. We’ve been surprised by how many people are finding that the term wellbeing is something inclusive and that they’ve feel it’s something they’re part of, it seems to be a more collaborative term, but as I said at the beginning, we’re not dogmatic about that, we see all of these different movements as cousin concepts that are all complementary and moving in the same direction. We have a lot of amazing degrowth scholars as part of our community, and I think it’s about recognising that we’re all pushing in a similar direction. Just transition I think is one of the most important conversations of our time because there are a lot of folks around the world whose livelihoods depend on the old paradigm and if they’re scared of their livelihoods and those of their children and their grandchildren, it’s quite understandable that they will hold on for grim life to the current system. And we see that in voting patterns. Last year there was an election in Australia where it was the coal mining communities that suddenly really kept the current Australian government in which took a lot of people by surprise, and I was asked on a podcast that I was doing with an Australian university, Katherine what would you say to those communities up in Queensland? And I said well I wouldn’t start by saying anything to them, I think we need to start by sitting down with the communities, with a beer or cup of tea or glass of wine and talk about what kind of hopes they have for their children and their grandchildren because a lot of folks, particularly here in Scotland, work in the oil sector, and a lot of them will be engineers and scientists who will be reading the science around environmental impacts and will know what’s coming, and so I think we’ve got to stop this tribal taking sides missile type conversation and work together to create paths through this, so people feel their livelihoods are supported, and that’s a collective responsibility, looking after people’s livelihoods, and there’s a lovely phrase, we should protect the person but not the position. So if we’re going to stay we need to power down oil and gas, and power down coal mining and all the other toxic industries that are doing so much damage to people and planet, we still need to protect the people whose livelihoods depend upon them.

V: Great, thank you. I’m very conscious of time and according to the session we had planned for a 90 minute session but I have to say that there are some incredibly rich questions still in the chat and so I just wanted to check whether it’s ok for you if we continued for maybe 15-20 minutes more? I don’t know if you’re available or not?

K: Vasna I’m afraid I’ve got another meeting on the hour, I can be a couple of minutes late for it but probably not without a partner.

V: Ok no worries, then I’m going to take the privilege of being the moderator and just cobble together a couple of questions that have come which are very much asking the point about the Global South perspective, and the realities that people are living with in the Global South and how do we actually deal with that. So one of the questions is, even if all of the countries embark on an economy of wellbeing, there is still uneven development because of primitive accumulation and massive exploitation, disposition of material conditions and so forth, do you think it is necessary for an Economy of Wellbeing to include climate debt and colonial repatriations? Related to that, people have asked questions about the struggles for the environment and its inhabitants in mega projects like those in Mexico, Lima, can you relate your discourse to these realities, so really talking about the struggles that people are facing in the Global South, very immediate life threatening but also the historical debt that is carried with it. If you could say something on that that would be fantastic, as concisely as possible since we have 4 minutes left.

L: I’ll try to go first and I want to be very very concise, I developed everything you heard today while I was in Africa. I lived the past 20 years in Africa and when I wrote this book, which is here, The Wellbeing Economy: Success in a word without growth, from a Global South perspective. One reason why degrowth as a concept doesn’t travel far successfully is precisely because it’s mainly a eurocentric concept, you go to a country that has never developed conventionally and you say to them that they have to pursue degrowth, they look at you like you’re coming from Mars, they say what we need is more growth, how can you expect me to have less growth? But when you say to them no, you need another type of growth, you need growth of wellbeing, that does better than what the Europeans and the Americans and the Westerners thought, when I used to tell my African brothers and sisters that if they want to develop with the model of growth that Europe and America have developed, they will need to follow the same path and that path involves commerce and colonising the rest of the world to access resources, do you think that Africa will ever be in the position? Possibly not, hopefully not. We don’t want to have the same tragedy again, so the only way for developing countries, so called developing countries, to really find their own path to satisfaction, to a better life, is to embrace a new model of growth, a new model of development which we think should be based on wellbeing. It’s not taking away, it’s moving in the right direction in a more efficient and intelligent way than their predecessors have done, so it’s a positive narrative and I think this has a lot of appeal. Mostly in societies that come from different cultural perspectives and do not simply want to embrace the conventional economic growth model that Europeans and Americans have made so popular around the world.

K: Just ever so quickly from me, on the question of reparations and climate debt, absolutely. I think there’s no way that that the Global North can continue to shy away from those, and I think part of the reason why I left large development organisations is because I had a growing sense of urgency of how it was the economic models of the Global North that were doing so much damage to our friends, and families and cousins around the world, in the sense that they were taking so much more than their fair share of ecological room. So the question of contraction and convergence I think are really important in this respect, but absolutely, I grew up as a child of the British Empire in Australia and have seen the damage of those decades of colonisation, and Australia is still paying the rent and that multi-generational trauma on first nations of Australia. So I think we need to have those conversations out and frankly, and really open up that discussion because when I talk about social justice on a healthy planet as being the heart of the Wellbeing Economy agenda, climate justice globally and historically is part of that. I’ll stop there because of time. Thanks for the question and absolutely bang on.

V: There really is so much more that we can discuss both in the session and hopefully continue as well, I really appreciate the influence that both of you have.

A: I think one of the things that we can do Katherine and Lorenzo, is to share the chat messages with you and hopefully email IDs are also there that we can give you and so some of the questions that haven’t been addressed, maybe you can individually address them to the people who asked. As Vasna said, there are some very rich and complex questions so if you can agree to continue the dialogue offline that would be wonderful.

V: Just to say thank you very much to Lorenzo and Katherine and everyone for joining us today and we will have this recording on our website

K: Thank you everyone and thank you to Ashish and Vasna for making it happen. Have a good week folks.

About the the presenters

Katherine Trebeck

Dr Katherine Trebeck is Advocacy and Influencing Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. She is a political economist with over eight years’ experience with Oxfam GB (including developing the Humankind Index). She sits on a range of advisory boards and holds several academic affiliations. Katherine instigated the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership and her book The Economics of Arrival (with Jeremy Williams: Policy Press) was published in 2019.

She has over eight years experience in various roles with Oxfam GB: as a Senior Researcher for the Global Research Team, as UK Policy Manager, and as Research and Policy Advisor for Oxfam Scotland. Katherine, with Lorenzo Fioramonti, instigated the Wellbeing Economy Governments (an alternative to the G7); developed Oxfam's Humankind Index; and led Oxfam's work on a 'human economy'. She was Rapporteur for Club de Madrid's Working Group on Shared Societies and Sustainability and is on the advisory board for the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (University of Surrey); the Omina Foundation; the Living Well Within Limits project (University of Leeds); A Good Life for All Within Planetary Boundaries (University of Leeds); and the Economic Democracy Index project (University of Glasgow). Katherine has a PhD in Political Science from the Australian National University and is Honorary Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde.

Lorenzo Fioramonti

Lorenzo Fioramonti is a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Pretoria (South Africa) and the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation. In June 2018 he was named Deputy Minister and then Minister of Education, University and Research in Italy, a position he held until December 2019. During his term in office, he pioneered innovations which gave him extraordinary popularity, like the introduction of mandatory classes about sustainable development in all schools and universities, making Italy the first country to do so in the world. A staunch believer in the knowledge economy, he took the unprecedented decision to resign from his ministerial post when the Government failed to increase funding for public education and research. 

Lorenzo Fioramonti is currently a Member of Parliament in Italy and the global promoter of a new concept of development, the “wellbeing economy”, that is a system of production and consumption based on social, economic and environmental sustainability. He has worked with leading scientists and Nobel Prize recipients, and has held the following positions: first Jean Monnet Programme Chair in Africa; president of the European Union Studies Association of Sub-Saharan Africa; UNESCO/UNU Chair in Regional Integration, Migration and Free Movement of People;  fellow of the Centre for Social Investment of the University of Heidelberg, the Hertie School of Governance and the United Nations University. 

He is the author of over 70 scientific articles, two film documentaries and 10 books, which have been translated into over 10 languages. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, the Harvard Business Review, Die Presse, Der Freitag, the Mail & Guardian, Foreign Policy and openDemocracy 

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