Read The new left economics: how a network of thinkers is transforming capitalism
Christine Berry, a young British freelance academic, is one of the network’s central figures. “We’re stripping economics back to basics,” she says. “We want economics to ask: ‘Who owns these resources? Who has power in this company?’ Conventional economic discourse obfuscates these questions, to the benefit of those with power.” The new leftwing economics wants to see the redistribution of economic power, so that it is held by everyone – just as political power is held by everyone in a healthy democracy. This redistribution of power could involve employees taking ownership of part of every company; or local politicians reshaping their city’s economy to favour local, ethical businesses over large corporations; or national politicians making co-operatives a capitalist norm.

The Guardian writes about how left wing economics seems to be landing on their own economic narrative and proposition. Mostly until now leftwing economic policies aim(ed) at shaving off some of the rough edges of the rightwing ones. Making them rear-guard skirmishes almost by definition.

Last Monday in a conversation on government and markets, I remarked it baffles me that most discussions seem to pretend there’s only government task / public ownership on one end, and (unregulated) free market on the other end. As if there isn’t an entire spectrum in between of structures, legal entities and tools that deal with ownership, control, (immoral) externalising of costs, and influence in very different ways. Aral Balkan’s recent proposal is an example of such alternatives. That false dichotomy is a ruse it seems to put any suggestion of change into a default defensive position. Which is where left wing economic politics has been for decades.

Our economic structures, as any structure humans come up with, are tools, not a force of nature, and as such can be done away with when we find we want different tools. Now definitely seems to be such a time, in the light of global challenges and many people feeling disempowered in the face of those challenges. A search for novel agency is on.

The Guardian posits that this emerging leftwing economic approach is new. The article quotes Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill saying “If we want to live in democratic societies, then we need to … allow communities to shape their local economies …. It is no longer good enough to see the economy as some kind of separate technocratic domain in which the central values of a democratic society somehow do not apply.

This is hardly new as economics, maybe as leftwing position. Karl Polanyi (died 1964) posited much the same thing, that economic structures need to serve communities, and warned that for most of the 20th century “Instead of the economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.” Leading an article in Renewable Matters from a year before this Guardian article to ask “What if Karl Polanyi was right?

4 reactions on “

  1. When I moved to my town, small local company provided broadband and cable access. It was pure shit! It wasn’t until Comcast bought then that we got upgraded and reliable infrastructure with faster speeds and more channels. I have no interest in an employee-owned small business ”just because”.

    • Of course, ‘just because’ is never useful to base a decision on. This I think is more whether society should determine economic structures or the other way around. And on a different axis, whether there is more nuance possible than just ‘fully publicly owned’ and ‘unregulated free market’. Forcing a decision between just those two, with the unvoiced assumption that choosing the public option is always suspect, reeks a lot like ‘just because’ as well. The choice of nuance needs to be determined by the actual purpose of a structure. Because structures are tools, and the right tool might differ from context to context.

      In your example, there are many rural areas around the world where a local initiative for connectivity is the way to go. Because no Comcast or equivalent sees profit in rolling it out there. Or because making the infrastructure locally first is the only way to attract a Comcast or equivalent, as it makes the demand visible. Your crappy local company may have been a crucial evolutionary step, to attract Comcast. No solutions, no tools, and thus no structures, are for all time.

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