by vivian Hutchinson
March 7-14, 1985 45 min read download as PDF
It was the early days of a fundamental economic transformation. We were worried about unemployment, but we hadn’t yet really understood the brutal economic agenda of Rogernomics, Reaganomics or of Margaret Thatcher. We still had the space to dream and imagine what economic change could look like if it followed our best intentions: perhaps even a New Economic Agenda that spoke of the common good.
So I was working for the Salvation Army and trying to gain a vocabulary in my head for what I could see happening in the streets around me. I jumped on a plane and ended up in Scotland at an unusual community and conference venue called Findhorn that seemed to be specialising in talking to angels and growing enormous cabbages. But this conference was talking about Economics. And we were all on a much bigger learning curve than we could have imagined.
Nevertheless, Lance Girling Butcher, the editor at our local paper The Daily News, agreed to publish my report on the conference when I returned home to New Zealand. It became a series of one-page articles spread over four days in 1985. The ideas and strategies I learned and thought about at that Scottish conference, and the community projects I visited afterwards, helped set the direction of the new Taranaki Work Trust that we were just setting up at the time. It is interesting to re-read the mixture of hopefulness, practicality and naivety of a 29-year old community activist on his first visit to Europe.
A Buddhist teacher once told me that Economics was the “science of choice ... governed by desire.” That stopped me in my tracks. Yet it put me on a path to try to keep alive and feed the notion of what that “science of choice” would look like if it was governed by the conviction that people and the earth really mattered...
— vivian Hutchinson (February 2023)
A four-part series first published in THE DAILY NEWS New Plymouth, New Zealand on March 7-14, 1985
VIVIAN HUTCHINSON, is the regional manager of the Salvation Army Work Schemes in Taranaki. He has been active over the past six years in local initiatives surrounding unemployment. He was recently selected as a Taranaki delegate to this week's Employment Promotion Conference, representing Taranaki work schemes and community groups.
Last year Mr Hutchinson was invited to join The New Economic Agenda conference in Northern Scotland, and he travelled for two months throughout Britain looking at unemployment projects and co-operative development agencies.
This is the first of four articles giving a background to the conference and sharing some of the fruits of his journey.
1. The Party is Over
WE ARE IN the midst of a huge cultural transformation .. . one that is being led by deep economic and technological changes.
I call this a cultural transformation because the economic and technological changes are also having deep effects on our families, our political lives, our spiritual awareness, the arts, and the environment.
It's a peculiar transformation, because despite its deep implication for all of us, you rarely read an in-depth debate of the issues in our daily newspapers . . . and I have yet to see a major TV series investigate its full implications to us as a people.
My own field is employment . . . helping people make a living in the world.
As an administrator for The Salvation Army's Taranaki Work Schemes, I have a particular concern for young people — as half the unemployed in this country are under the age of 21.
Perhaps from the view-point of employment we can begin to view one of the more prominent faces of the transformation we are within.
When I first started with The Salvation Army Work Schemes six years ago, I assumed that the unemployment we were experiencing would be a temporary thing. When the economy looked up (like in the great Depression of the 1930's) people would get plenty of jobs again.
I no longer feel that way.
In fact, as the jobs haven't come and as the economic situation world-wide has got considerably worse . . . I can no longer accept that unemployment today is a re-run of the 1930's.
I think it would be fair to say that many people running Work Schemes around New , Zealand have begun to share this disillusionment. Some of us are getting some very good and encouraging results in our work. But unemployment itself isn't going away.
It's as if we are merely organising the bulk of our unemployed out of sight and out of harms way .. . but we are not as yet working to heal the basic nature of unemployment in our society.
Because I was directly involved in trying to mop up this whole mess, I began to see it as my duty to try and look into just what was going on.
I began to ask myself: Do we really need to be victims of a changing economic system? Or is there something tangible that we as community-based groups can do to contribute to the healing of unemployment in our society?
Several years ago, I began to search out the writings of several international economists who seemed to be putting together a very challenging picture of what really was going on.
Many of these economists had very traditional backgrounds in business or economics . . . but their message was very un-conventional.
These economists were comparing our present economic and technological transformations with what it must have been like living in the midst of the first Industrial Revolution 150 years ago.
Economist Fritz Schumacher
At the time, James Watt's peculiar invention of the steam engine rapidly ushered in a whole new wave of technological change that just as quickly had political, cultural, spiritual and ecological ramifications.
Western culture at the time was largely organised around agriculture and the job of feeding people .. . something like 90% of us were employed on the land.
This all changed radically as machines moved on to the land and people were thrust into the cities and colonies to feed the new industrial economic system.
This transformation took the best part of a century to complete. But it became very clear early on that most people had joined the Industrial Society as the
main source of earning a living. We were left with 5% of the people on the land . . . feeding the rest of us.
Today we are participating in what is becoming known as the Second great Industrial Revolution. It is led by a tiny technological insurgent .. . the silicon microprocessor (or chip). And as well as its very evident economic effects, the silicon chip will be responsible for as many political, cultural, spiritual and ecological transformations in the very near future.
One of the major differences between this industrial revolution and the first, is the speed at which things are happening.
The change from agriculture to industry as the basis of our economy took about 100 years to complete.
The change from industry to "the next economy" has actually happened today in little over 20 years.
The major upsetting issue of the last decade has been that (whether our politicians admit it or not) it's clear the old economic rules are no longer working.
It's almost as a concert pianist has returned to his piano after the interval to find his instrument has been completely retuned. His favourite melodies have become cacophanies.
So it is with our sense of economic reality.
The silicon chip has completely retuned our system. And it is only in the past five years that we have begun to piece together a sense of what actually are the emerging ground rules of a new economic agenda.
Perhaps that most famous of these economists that I began to read several years ago, was Dr Fritz Schumacher, a native German who for many years was economic advisor to the British Coal Board.
Schumacher wrote prophetically throughout the sixties and early seventies of an economic system he saw in dynamic change.
In one memorable article he proclaimed that "the party was over".
The party he referred to was the huge consumer and industrial expansion of the fifties and sixties.
The main herald of change for Schumacher was the rising price of energy, particularly oil, meaning a rapid decline in the economic feasibility of our industrial giants.
Schumacher was also one of the first to clearly articulate the impact of new technology of jobs and our way of life generally.
Schumacher's book "Small Is Beautiful" (pub Abacus 1974) steadily became a best-seller around the western world.
In it he called for an economics ". . . as if people mattered" — an economics steeped in the traditional wisdom of mankind . . . an economics that served community development rather than exploiting people.
He also advocated a technology ". . . as if people mattered", and was the founder of the Intermediate Technology Development Group an organisation famous for its work in developing countries.
Schumacher died in September 1977.
We can now look back, however, and see that he was simply the first wave of a whole new tide of economic awareness and analysis.
Towards the end of the Seventies, many leading journals were headlining articles, new books were appearing on sale, and speakers appeared at conferences — all proclaiming that the Industrial Age of the western economic was over and that we were on the brink of something completely different.
In 1982 a new book was released and immediately became an international best-seller. It was "Megatrends" (pub MacDonald and Co 1982) and was written by John Naisbitt, an American corporate consultant and former speechwriter to Lyndon Johnson.
This book was a landmark for me in that it started to piece together the outlines of our next economy.
Naisbitt clearly explains in his book that what we were recognising to be a post-Industrial society emerging around us will come to be called the Information Society. The new economic system will be an economics based on information.
There has been a lot of resistance to this notion. Hard pragmatic business-men haven't taken too kindly to the thought that the exploitation of very solid raw materials will not be the basis of wealth in the future.
Naisbitt's book describes the current transformation with particular reference to employment.
The real increase in work since the 1950s has been in the information jobs.
More than 65% of Americans now work with information as programmers. teachers, clerks, secretaries, accountants, stockbrokers, managers, insurance people. bureaucrats, lawyers, bankers and technicians.
And many more hold information jobs within manufacturing industries.
Of the 19 million new jobs created in the US in the 1970s, only 11% were in the manufacturing or goods producing sector. So nearly 90% of the new jobs were being created fully within the new economy of information.
One commentator has remarked that we have clearly worked ourselves out of the manufacturing business and into the thinking business.
New York City — the leading light of industrial America — has lost half the manufacturing jobs it had in 1947. The city lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs between 1977 and 1980 alone.
It's a picture very reminiscent of the agricultural job losses in the first Industrial Revolution. And its not just an American phenomenon . . . if you look at the New Zealand newspapers over the past five years you'll see a very similar and sorry story.
This revolution isn't only in employment.
The information economy is turning most of our preconceived notions of economics on its head.
The new wealth of the future is know-how.
Says Naisbitt: "In the Industrial Society the strategic resource was Capital. A lot of people may have known how to build a steel plant, but not many people could get the money to build one . . ."
"But in our new economy, the strategic resource is information. And the new source of power is not money in the hands of a few, but information in the hands of many..."
"And knowledge is not subject to the same laws of conservation. It can be created, destroyed, and through communication regenerates itself.
"In the Agricultural period, man's livelihood was pit against nature. In industrial society man was pit against the tools and raw resources he could fabricafe.
"But today in the information society, man's economic system is based on getting in touch with himself acid communicating with each other . . ."
This transformation from industrial to information age is not theory. It's been very much a fact-of-life for us for the past 10 years.
But this new economic theory is just that — very new. And were still searching out and developing answers to the question of what is the new economic agenda?
How in the midst of this great period of change can we truly develop an economics as if people mattered?
And what do we do with the massive casualties of this transformation ... particularly the unemployed and our most immediate concern for the future of our younger people?
Last October, as a result of my own work with employment, I was asked to join an international gathering in Northern Scotland to discuss just what were the elements of our next economy.
The conference was entitled "The New Economic Agenda" and was attended by 200 leading economists, entrepreneurs, business consultants and community organisers. It's aim was to explore our new economic landscape in the 1980s and 1990s from a perspective of both local and global change.