There are several discourses that have been employed during the years of periodic and inevitable capitalist boom and busts; one being the ‘need’ for growth. Brought in during the WW2, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has become a key benchmark for capitalism’s ‘success’, oh, and failures. What GDP privileges is the continuous expansion of growth, ever-increasing economic activity, whilst not distinguishing between economic production which undermines well-being socially and environmentally. Also, localised production such as through voluntary work and organisational structures such as cooperatives that aren’t governed towards growth, are either discounted or undermined.
Crucially, as GDP goes up so does the degradation to our environment. This is clearly illustrated by the following quote:
Superfund clean-up of toxic sites is slated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars over the next thirty years, which gets added to the GDP. Since the GDP first added the economic activity that generated that waste, it creates the illusion that pollution is a double benefit for the economy.
As Chomsky passionately described, forms of organisations based on cooperation instead of competition are the most liberating and free up more time for creativity. The New Economic Foundation have been fundamental to discussing the importance of new forms of organisations and new measures of activity. This ties to the increasingly attractive economic doctrine of Zero Growth – where social, environmental and economic factors are based on sustainability and people’s livelihoods. No longer would we dictate policies on the basis that we could grow more than our European counterparts, for example. However bad this recession has been, these crashes are just a part of the capitalist structure; we need a fundamentally new approach towards the economy.
This is where new organisational structures come in. As I have already mentioned, cooperatives and workers’ councils are attractive and productive new ways to do business. Also, there is the need for new ways to measure economic activity – such as the Genuine Progress Indicator, where pros and cons of economic activity are weighed properly in relation to social and environmental considerations. Whilst GDP has been steadily growing, GPI since 1970 has decreased by around 45%. Well-being is comprehensively analysed via the GPI – consider the inclusion of leisure time, for example. When that increases, the well-being increases – this relates quite clearly to Chomsky’s views around creativity. It is important to note that the GPI is not the only alternative to GDP put forward. Consider the New Economic Foundation’s Happy Planet Index.
Creativity is essential for people to express themselves, and creativity is central to an organisation that is set to launch – SilenceBreakers. SilenceBreakers is launching its new website today; this is a company I have written about before as a member of its board. Specifically important in the context of this blog is that the company will be engaging in a new approach to accounting – that of social auditing. As explained in my previous blog:
Through social accounting, the social, environmental and economic effects are measured and thus the companies practices are aligned to progressive goals. It is an advancement from the current focus upon solely economic targets of companies.
For more on social accounting, go back to my previous blog.
Social auditing relates to new ways of measuring activity such as GPI, as it accounts for the social, economic and environment consequences as well as the financial ones. Instead of seeing financial gain as an end in itself, it measures the social, economic and environmental consequences as a key aspect of the company’s success; if the goals of the company are damaging the social, economic and environmental aims, then the goals and practices are changed. This is a practice that more and more companies are taking on.
As well as using a new approach to accounting, the company is based on the fundamental aim of providing a voice to those who are often ignored by mainstream policies and private investment. Its main premise is to recycle computers to provide workshops and technological assistance and skills for disadvantaged communities – so they can blog, vlog etc – providing them with space and a valuable outlook of self-expression.
The current system is too often driven by the desire for more, without consideration of what specifically constitutes more. The current government’s economic masochism is a clear example of this, as they drive to cut public resources more and more – in a desperate attempt to have a relatively good comparable GDP, for example. Included in this economic binge is a reduction of important social services such as the Future Jobs Fund and many other youth services (Sheffield has been particularly hit) and also environmental services, such as the Sustainable Development Commission. SilenceBreakers will be providing services within Sheffield, which can hopefully help some of those who are to be disproportionately hit by these cuts.
With new outlooks towards the economic situation, the progressives amongst us are making useful inroads into the ‘need’ for cuts argument. Included within the alternative is the importance of companies such as SilenceBreakers to lead the way with promoting new organisational structures. Whilst Chomsky may have misunderstood the importance of central coordination, he is right when it comes to the importance of more workers based cooperatives and cooperative organisational structures, also his work on the importance of creativity is particularly illuminating. And as many progressive economists and theorists are telling us, there is a need for a new approach to economic activity – where sustainability of resources are considered as paramount and people’s ability to become creative is promoted.
For this, new structures, new organisational arrangements and a new way of accounting and measuring economic activity is required; SilenceBreakers is an important example of what the progressives amongst us need to promote if we are to change the very structures that seek to undermine our basis of living.