A four-part series first published in THE DAILY NEWS New Plymouth, New Zealand on March 7-14, 1985
by vivian Hutchinson
March 13, 1985 8 min read download as PDF
THE TRANSITION FROM an Industrial Society to an Information Society represents the most major reconstitution of our way of life that we have known outside wartime.
It was against these rapidly changing times that the New Economic Agenda conference was convened last October at Findhorn in Northern Scotland.
It was attended by 200 leading economists, entrepreneurs, business consultants and community organisers. Its aim was to explore our new economic landscape in the 1980s and 90s from a perspective of both local and global change.
My own contribution to the gathering was from a local perspective. I gave workshops on community-based initiatives surrounding unemployment in New Zealand and also spoke on the emerging worker co-operative movement in this country.
It was intriguing for me to put our local experience against the international landscape and the tapestry of economic theory being woven by the economists at the conference.
It was encouraging to find that our local experience was very much in resonance with events happening everywhere in the western world at this time.
The logo for the conference was an Apple computer surrounded by the Christian symbols of bread, wine and fishes. The keynote of this image was that our rapid economic transformation needs to be matched with positive cultural and spiritual values.
Dr Fritz Schumacher summed this up when he called for an economics" . as if people mattered".
The conference in no way sought to dogmatically define what is still an ongoing debate. The 200 participants met throughout the week in lectures, workshops and audiovisual presentations which each gave a different perspective and viewpoint to our current economic transformation.
Every day had a different theme: The Next Economy, People Matter Most, The New Local Economic Order, Business As Service, The Role of Multinationals and The Economics of Ecology and Development.
The Swedish delegation to the conference
Charles Handy, a former oil executive and professor at the London School of Economics, began the conference with a talk on "The Future of Work", which was also the title of his new book exploring the rapid changes to our working lives.
Handy predicts that the "next economy" will force us to take a whole new approach to shaping our workstyles.
The standard 40-hour week, one job workstyle was a dying way of life. In the future we will be gaining a livelihood from a mixture of areas. There will be a greater emphasis on part-time and flexible work contracts More people will be paid in fees rather than through wages.
And, as Handy cautions, our political and community leaders will have to start taking the lead in creating new attitudes towards the place of work in our future culture.
Guy Dauncey (of the British Unemployment Resource Network) warns that we shouldn't kid ourselves that there's going to be one magic answer to unemployment.
Dauncey sees a "new local economic order" emerging which will be discovering quite a variety of answers to unemployment, each matched to an equal variety of circumstances.
Dauncey has been lecturing for the past five years on the transformative potential within the unemployment crisis.
He sees enterprise trusts and boards being set up with local community backing, co-operative development agencies, community businesses and workshops, science parks and a host of related developments. His talk to the conference was illustrated with current exploratory examples in the United Kingdom.
It is in locally-based initiatives that Dauncey sees the key to healing unemployment. New jobs in the future won't come from retraining people in the ways of the old Industrial Age. They will spring up out of the cracks of our twilight economic structure.
Our best efforts at present are to spread the attitudes and skills of enterprise and self-help amongst the unemployed and local groups so that they respond to their own changing situation.
Guy Dauncey (left) of the British Unemployment Resource Network (BURN)
Jonathon Porritt of Friends Of The Earth spoke of the political implications of the new economics.
Porritt believes the "next economy" is also forcing a whole new ball-game for our western political system as well.
We are moving beyond the classical left-right paradigm of the political spectrum. The future debate will rage between those who have a separatistic view of economic and cultural life, and those who see our culture in more wholistic terms.
Porritt gave an eloquent call at the conference for us to redefine our conventional view of wealth.
"At an individual level today, wealth means possessing the symbols of affluence - consumer durables and credit cards, and being rich enough to have a huge overdraft.
"In the new economic agenda, the wealthy will be those who have the independence and education to enhance the real quality of their lives.
"The poor will be those who look back to an age when money might have, but never quite did, buy happiness ..."
UK84-0019 Jonathon Porritt of Friends of the Earth
Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef talked of his own experiences as a "barefoot" economist and also called for a fresh cultural definition of wealth ... one that focusses on human needs than material gains.
"It is these very needs that will have to be built into the basic formulas that constitute such things as GNP (Gross National Product) ..."
Max-Neef was the 1983 recipient of the Right Livelihood Award which is known by many as "The Alternative Nobel Prize". This annual award is presented by a Swedish group who feel that Nobel's original intentions for humanity were no longer being fulfilled.
Says Max-Neef: "I worked for a number of years as an economist for several international organisations. I was engaged in efforts to diagnose poverty, to measure it and devise indicators which might reveal the magnitude of the extremely poor.
"After costly seminars and even costlier conferences called to communicate the findings ... they always seemed to recommend that the most urgent work to be done was to allocate more funds for further research!
"At a certain point I began to feel I was participating in a rather obscene ritual.
"So it happened that I severed my ties with the economic establishment and 'stepped into the mud'. I became, and still remain, a 'barefoot economist'."
Manfred Max-Neef - joint winner of the 1983 Alternative Nobel Prize
There was quite a large Swedish delegation to the conference, including a prominent Swedish Parliamentarian. They held a special evening presentation on how the next economy was affecting their way of life.
They also chose the conference as the occasion to announce the 1984 recipients of the Right Livelihood Award. The recipients were all women active in community projects in the Third World.
Peter Schwartz, the chief planning officer of Royal Dutch Shell, spoke on how multi-national companies are being forced to change their structures and policies in the face of the new economic agenda.
"Their organisations are too big, unweildy and not responsive to the changing landscape around them", says Schwartz.
"I have often wondered what the last dinosaur must have felt standing in the swamps as the mud slowly turned to ice around its legs ... looking around and rather stupidly wondering: 'When are things going to get back to normal?"
Schwartz asserts that economics follows the same sort of evolutionary course of long periods of relative expansion and growth marked by transitions — phases in which we have sharp changes and shocks. And these phases are very important because the rules differ for each of them.
The rapid transition from Industrial to Information Age is just such a sharp shock to the whole system.
"...And if multinationals don't quickly begin to change. they will find themselves with their legs slowly also turning to ice."
Peter Schwartz - Chief Planning Officer of Royal Dutch Shell
Maureen Smith was one of the most interesting speakers at the conference. She had been a resident of the Findhorn Community for three years, but was also maintaining her occupation as a stockbroker with 10 years experience on the London Stock Exchange.
She gave a workshop on "Socially Responsible Investment on the Stock Exchange" with practical examples of how she acts as agent for a considerable fund, investing particularly in local body stocks.
Her own philosophy was particularly challenging.
"Money comes to all of us marked; marked with the soul struggle of others. It does not come clean, but bloodied in the enormous battles of anothers soul.
"The inner life of money must be its transformative potential and I feel that as such I experience something of the possibility of transformation in myself.
"Of itself, money is sterile, empty and meaningless. But with the love energy behind its doors to many peoples hearts are opened.
"Thinking globally and acting locally" was definitely one of the guiding principles of the Findhorn conference, whether in business, community or personal affairs.
Findhorn stressed this local connection by inviting several Scottish speakers who described their local initiatives.
There were speakers from the Scottish Highlands and Islands Development Board, and Scottish Co-operative Development Agency and representatives from community business.
Chns Elphick related his experiences as a community worker in the depressed welfare housing district of Easterhouse (in Glasgow).
This area of 50,000 people were cleared from the infamous Gorbals slums of Glasgow during the 1960s and re-housed in huge sterile estates with little local employment, entertainment facilities or even a shopping centre.
The result was widespread vandalism and crime as despair and alienation overtook the town planners dream of a new start for the slum dwellers.
Chris Elphick is employed by the Easterhouse Festival Society whose aim is to try and find ways through which the community could celebrate itself despite its depressing circumstances.
Much of their work is centred in promoting the arts, and job creation through developing the local economy of Easterhouse itself.
Says Elphick "Our work is concerned with providing opportunities for people to explore their creative potential to unlock their innermost hopes and aspirations and help people open doors which replace despair and dereliction with hope and dignity.
"We want our area to flourish ... and that cannot be done without a vision."
This is very much a potted portrait of a diverse conference.
There were many other speakers and workshops ranging from "the economics of ecology" to the corporate philosophy of the Scandanavian airline SAS.
For me, the conference raised perhaps as many questions as it began to answer. But as it began to close, I was left with a deep conviction that is still with me.
That there is no need for us to be passive victims of the economic transformation that surrounds us ... in fact, the reverse is the case.
We are very much needed as active participants taking personal and local initiatives to get to grips with our new economic agenda.
Being my first trip to the United Kingdom, I took the ' opportunity over the next two months of travelling around the Isles, taking time to investigate just how the "next economy.' was taking shape among British people ... and how they were responding to the rapid changes of the last decade.
I naturally navigated towards my own interests of unemployment projects and worker co-operative development centres.
The trip for me was a picture of Britain in dramatic change a change which we in New Zealand are rapidly on the heels of.
Part four: Britain in change -- notes from a personal journey.