12 October 2007

Participatory Capitalism

Remember the days when everyone knew their bank manger and the Man from the Pru would visit to collect his premium? It's not that long ago since people still seemed to have an important place in financial transactions. Now, though, everything seems to be automated or online — even applying for a loan or larger overdraft. Having unquestioningly accepted the flexibility and convenience that technology has offered our individualistic age, it might seem strange to hear anyone calling for a people-centred economy in which morality replaces mathematics in tackling problems caused by global capital. Yet, in criticising the global economic system for creating "material and spiritual poverty," that is precisely what the World Council of Churches programme executive for Economic Justice, Poverty and Ecology has done.

The Tanzanian Rogate Mshana suggests that one solution to the globalisation of capital could be the introduction of "participatory capitalism, which provides a way to connect people to their economy, their community, to their work place, and to each other," for instance through employee ownership schemes. He also called for the promotion of fair trade to respect the needs of small-scale farmers in poor countries and the support of economic initiatives that focus on social rather than economic performance.

I am reminded of an observation made in the ground-breaking Jubilee Manifesto (by Michael Schluter & John Ashcroft), it its discussion of the consequences of the debt-based financial system that has predominated in the West in recent centuries: "It is ironic that anti-globalisation campaigners decry the activities of multinational companies because of their scale, their dissociation from local communities and the frequent excesses of executive pay. These are all the inexorable results of the principle of limited liability, but rarely does one hear the correct diagnosis of the underlying problem."

If the Conservatives are serious about tilting the domestic and international balance back from "economy-friendly families to family-friendly economies" — or even, if I might be so bold as to suggest, community-friendly economies — then they would do well to listen to the likes of the WCC's Mshana.

Source: Ecumenical News International