Getting A Toe Hold

Drawing inspiration and new ideas
from The Other Economic Summit

One of the articles in Creating A Future We Can Live With (IC#40)
Originally published in Spring 1995 on page 7
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

"I’m putting all my eggs in one bastard," Dorothy Parker is reputed to have said as she embarked on another less than happy affair.

And, in many ways, that has been our attitude about the economic system. We may not like it, but we have to pretend for a while – as Keynes told us to – that foul is useful and fair is not.

But not any more.

Let’s cast our minds back a decade to the summer of 1984. It was then that an unlikely group of greens, alternative types, gurus, economists and futurists gathered around the corner from the G7 summit (the Group of Seven powerful industrialized nations) and, for the first time, called themselves The Other Economic Summit (TOES).

From Toronto to Tokyo …

It is easy to be pessimistic about the extent to which New Economics has filtered into the smoky rooms of the G7 summits since then, but that original TOES seems to have launched a powerful movement which has spread worldwide.

TOES spawned the New Economics Foundation in London. It spread to TOES/North America and TOES/New Zealand and a range of similar groups from Toronto to Tokyo. It launched a myriad small magazines and newsletters.

It led to nine more TOES summits – only the G7 summit in Italy in 1986 was not covered. From 1985, when summiteers tried to broker a deal over Tokyo airport protesters, to 1994 when the mural artists outside TOES Naples were arrested by police, the alternative summits have been increasingly noticed.

New Economics has also become a respected academic discipline, thanks to the Living Economy Network organized by Paul Ekins – who has played a leading role in the movement since the first TOES.

Many of the personalities appearing at that alternative summit have found recognition. Professor David Pearce became an advisor to Chris Patten as environment secretary. Jose Lutzenberger became environment minister in Brazil.

New Economics Takes Hold

What is more important, probably, is that some of the ideas put forward then have filtered their way slowly into practice – sometimes by hard-working community activists, sometimes at the tables of finance ministers in Europe, sometimes on the world stage at Rio during the UNCED negotiations.

The critical idea of alternative indicators – because our measurements of economic success are so blunt and blind – is increasingly accepted in Europe. European Commission president Jacques Delors accepted their importance in his recent blueprint for jobs. The Netherlands has been using them for its national accounts since 1991.

In the United Kingdom, an alliance between The New Economics Foundation, the United Nations Association, and accountants Touche Ross has led to experimental indicators being launched by 10 cities.

Then there is the idea of changing the tax system so that, as James Robertson – another critical figure in the first TOES – puts it, we tax what people subtract from society, not the value that they add.

The European Union is still debating their scheme for an energy tax that does just this, though it is bogged down in negotiations with the southern states, who say they can’t afford it, and with the UK.

And that’s not all. Community business is thriving in Glasgow. Barter currencies have taken off in the UK, and there are now over 300 groups trading with imaginary money. Ethical investment schemes are increasingly important.

Big companies are putting money into researching the way money behaves in inner city housing projects. Local authorities queue up to invest ethically. An alternative sector is emerging.

The Next Ten Years

So what do we do for the next 10 years? The work is urgent and the world’s problems increasingly dangerous. New Economics is filtering through into mainstream politics, but not fast enough.

At the same time, just as people are getting frustrated with politicians, the politicians – often from new political movements – are looking for solutions. Politics being as cut off from the world as it is in Britain, politicians are only just discovering ideas that were pretty worn out back in 1984.

We have to get involved, risk getting our hands dirty, and deal with the politicians directly.

David Boyle is editor of New Economics, published by the New Economics Foundation in London, where this article first appeared. You can reach the New Economics Foundation at 1st Floor, Vine Court, 112-116 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1JE, England.

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