A study of the present situation, the qualities of a Virtuous Economy, the restoration of Respect, their relation to the Common Good, and how each might be achieved.

1  The State We’re In

2  The Virtuous Economy

3  Restoring the Balance

4  Well-being in the Virtuous Economy

5  Virtuous Exemplar Institutions

6  An Economy for the Common Good

7  The Virtuous economy  and the Good Society

8  Regenerating the Economy

9  Getting There

10 Towards the Common Good

 

1 The State We’re In

This is the title of an insightful book written over a decade ago by Will Hutton. Both book and title remain highly relevant to the economic and social situations of our country today – times of austerity, uncertainty and disrespect induced by private greed and deception, deepened by disastrous macroeconomic policies and supported by self-serving institutional fantasies about what constitutes a viable economy. Our society has been denuded of the proven and stable values on which it was based for so long. And it has forsaken its leading role in the production of useful goods.

As a result of this dual abandonment, the country has lost its way both in economic and societal terms. The contentment, the legitimate pride and self respect of the people, their expectations for the future and the perceptions of our country at home and abroad have all been diminished. The evisceration of productive industry and the disrespect shown to ordinary people by the sale of over-priced, useless, false and contaminated products (all contributing to spurious GDP figures) have dragged down wellbeing. Respect and loyalty are integral to a virtuous economy and confidence and wellbeing are its fruits.

This is the state in which we now find ourselves. It is the state that we have allowed ourselves to be driven or seduced into – and it is the state in which we are likely to remain – or inevitably return to – so long as the underlying issues of the ethical foundations for both individual and corporate behaviour are not addressed.

There is no wishfully thought ‘invisible hand’ that will guide us through this distressed condition as it was imagined 250 years ago. The future will be what we ourselves make it on the basis of this simple realisation of our present state, the way to restore respect and produce a secure foundation and an awareness of the common good.

The distressed state of the economy is as much a moral problem as an economic one – although the economics alone are dire enough. Unless issues related to the absence of worthwhile values are resolved, the present circumstances are certain to persist, scandals will recur and the wellbeing of the population will continue to be neglected.

The values that are now regrettably lacking in society were once internalised by organisations as well as individuals. They were taken for granted and were largely unspoken. Citizens are now seen as gullible profits fodder fit for deception and exploitation rather than people to whom a genuine, valuable and above all trustworthy service is provided. The number of organisations that can be regarded as ethical is rapidly diminishing.

Companies, including household names once trusted take advantage of their customers through the careless or culpable sale of useless (banks) and contaminated (food retailers) products and ‘discover’ flawed ‘supply chains’ or that child labour or appalling working conditions underlie their brands and their profits. And tax avoidance by rich individuals and corporations, the disgraceful extent of which is only recently being revealed, and the consequent avoidance of social responsibility and the common good continues to grow apace.

We have seen enough of ‘light touch regulation’ in food, finance and beyond. There’s been much talk of the adverse consequences to the general public and the taxpayer of inadequate or effectively non-existent regulation. But more important than this is the rampant moral de-regulation that has spread throughout so many of the commercial elite, resulting in a lack of respect for ordinary people, sense of service, loyalty, honesty, integrity – and indeed any sense of the public interest and the common good.

What’s more, the burdens of the recovery far from being evenly distributed are being borne in  greatest measure by those who had nothing to do with the banking crisis and by honest, hardworking ordinary people who pay their taxes. However, those who through their avaricious, unprincipled and incompetent actions brought about the economic crisis suffer least of all. They even complained of the damage not being forgotten, continue to take their grossly offensive bonuses and salaries, continue to do damage and threaten to take their companies abroad and are further rewarded with a tax cut.

For many years there has been an obsession with exponential economic growth as measured by contrived numbers regardless of the burden placed on the environment and heedless of the distribution of well-being. This continues to be so even though there is an equally important need to ensure proper sustainability in a national as well as an environmental sense and a need for greater reference to population wellbeing. If more growth is sought it must reflect the common good and the associated costs for present and future generations. It is better to think of the country and the world as being borrowed from our children rather than inherited from our forebears.

The remorseless and obsessive quest for economic growth as the solution to financial and political ill is based on the dubious assumption that such growth is desirable in its own right. It has been clear for some time that, at least beyond a certain level, increases in material wealth do not produce a sense of greater wellbeing. Belief fades in possessions, from yachts to gadgets, as generators of contentment. The overt – and sometimes hidden – costs of immoderate economic growth are human, environmental and societal and are reflected in the stresses on individuals, families and communities.

Alongside this has been the relentless corporate drive for ever more profit – or so called ‘shareholder value’ – regardless of the loss of jobs, the consequences for the people whose work now produces the financial return, the communities in which they were once founded and the nation that has nurtured them.

In all of this we have as a population been unduly compliant in the deceit and as a consequence the people have become prey to the conduct of a rootless, asocial plutocracy and the slippery wealth they forever pursue. Rampant selfish materialism not only ravages the natural environment but it breaks down social bonds and stultifies the spirit. Not all growth is good and not everyone would agree as to what part is sustainable. Essential social structures weaken and eventually break down as a result. Respect, confidence and trust have been severely eroded – between individuals, between people as customers with companies and between people as citizens and the government – and in fact between the state and its people.

There is a vain quest amongst some who can afford it for emotional wellbeing gained through extravagant, even dissipated consumption. Excessive consumerism has the character of a social disease and it leads inevitably to a condition of disappointment. ‘Consumption’ is a word once used to describe a state of serious ‘ill-being’ – tuberculosis, a wasting illness – with the concept of waste ironically still appropriate in today’s context. Sales pressure drives consumerism and as long as the tide of advertisements and unsolicited approaches succeed in generating wants we didn’t know we had, we will be tempted to borrow more and waste more.

As a nation we have become loaded with worldly goods at the price of dependency on other countries whose governments have very different and long-range ambitions. The casting aside of self-sufficiency runs in parallel with increasing self-centredness. Debt financed purchasing, ‘casino capitalism’ and a permissive and defeatist attitude towards globalisation are rotting the links within communities. Some large companies, instead of being the sources of national and local pride as they once were have, in the hands of ungrounded and unprincipled management become profit monsters and creatures of the globalisation process.

In this country no sector has suffered more from this negligent attitude than manufacturing and engineering. It is tragic that as a country we are ceasing much of our historic role and leadership. Our machine tools (mostly foreign made these days) are sent overseas and loyal employees, who are soon to be made redundant are, to add insult to injury, obliged to train the foreign staff who will be taking their jobs. The country needs to re-learn how to create again instead of trying to live off the buying and selling of others.

This decline reveals an appalling lack of grasp and vision for not only is there no more creative activity than that of making things, manufacturing is also an important cultural activity and a source of national and regional pride. In fact manufacturing reveals whether or not you can ‘cut it as a country’ and its long decline is a sign of cultural as well as economic malaise. It is telling that we not only don’t – but appear no longer to want – to make things unless guided to do so by foreign owners. There are signs that this is at last being recognised, if rather timidly, in some political circles, but there are no quick fixes and strategic industrial policies and their associated investment (rather than exhortations and wishful thinking) are thin on the ground.

In allowing globalised companies to do these things that our forebears would have regarded not just as disloyal but as insane, we as a country also lose our self respect as well as our self sufficiency and a sustaining part of our national culture goes by the board. All of these things are sacrificed on the altar of private shareholder short-term profit.

The respect and trust that are so much needed in society today are undermined by the spread of contemptuous disregard – as illustrated by the description of passengers as ‘self-loading freight’. Material selfishness and the denial of the value of society – such as in the avoidance of taxpaying by the super rich compound the problem. In place of this we need service before self, loyalty to friends and family of course, but also to colleagues, compatriots and country.

Not only do we as a society now lack a common code of core values, there is no longer a universal standard for honesty – nor are there norms of respect. This is evident in many ways including the push by banks for sales of useless and hugely expensive financial ‘products’ to small firms, unsought loans to consumers and of course the appalling scandal in the production and sale of processed food.

The economy is not a series of balance sheets on which everyone should, in that deplorable phrase, ‘do the math’, it is a joint endeavour, it is the combined effort of millions of people and not the asset strippers, globalisers and bonus builders. In these profit-crazed times where overly empowered companies and their agents take actions contrary to the common good and also take enormous risks to the ultimate detriment of the common wealth, we should step aside from the ever-anxious drive and consider the makeup of a virtuous economy .

2 The Virtuous Economy

The economy that serves us best would be a benignly competitive one where the form that competition takes is in the interests of ordinary citizens and the common good. But more than this, the economy should be an honour system. Respect, trust and regard for the common good are the foundations of a virtuous economy. A foundation of trust which arises from demonstrated respect is also an efficient and non-bureaucratic way to operate.

A virtuous economy  is one in which individuals, private companies, the public sector, charitable and religious institutions and not least the government have developed a shared vision of the good of the nation and its citizens – present and future – and the care of the environment. And acting upon this foundation in their public, business and private lives they seek to operate with the common good firmly in mind.

It is important to note that this need not be to the exclusion of other, compatible interests of which there would be a wide range – including strictly personal benefit. No particular form of economic organisation is implied although wastefulness (as in a consumption driven society), rank inefficiency (as in over centralised economies), productive hollowing out (as with corporate globalisation) and gross imbalance both in economic sectors and the distribution of wealth (as with our present economy) are inferior models.

The key to the land of found content is a shared vision and a ‘citizenry of good intent’ in all their doings. This, and a perception of how values are imbued and sustained. Clearly, given the point we have now reached, it will be no small task to bring such a change about – and these changes will need to start from the top. But one encouraging sign is the realisation of ordinary people that true contentment involves the rediscovery of older values.

The virtuous economy will have mechanisms to ensure that the ‘external effects’ of major corporate decisions (such as factory closures and the impact on industrial supply chains, the off-shoring of business, tax avoidance and the sending abroad of engineering machine tools) are always taken properly into account. So too for the award of government contracts where it should be ensured that work is done and supplies are sourced from domestic industry. ‘Best value’ is a much broader concept than ‘lowest ‘cost’’. But in achieving this there is no more effective mechanism that the moral principles of the decision-makers involved and their awareness of the common good.

In contrast to current arrangements, the virtuous economy seeks to operate on a basis of greater self-sufficiency where this is possible and reasonable. In this it recognises that the accountants’ current ‘bottom line’ and the common good may not always be in full accord. This is so since the common good will attach positive value to the pride and sustainability of self-reliance and the command of resources.

In the country’s present situation there has been a struggle between social and moral values and a rampant, advertising driven market where commercial sales and the extraction of ever more profit dominate other considerations. We have been made into a debt laden and wasteful society – and it is no surprise that we are unhappy and dissatisfied as a result. We need a completely different vision of what constitutes ‘the good life’ where values and relationships rather than commodities are at the heart of daily living and where, as one example, public places are free of advertisements, particularly brazen and unsuitable ones.

Geometric economic growth cannot be sustained indefinitely – as we should have known – we are not above the natural order of things. And it should be clearly understood that ‘the ‘market’ is not a part of the natural order – it is an entirely human concept that should serve our purposes rather than frustrate them.

The virtuous economy is one where individuals or groups such as companies, public bodies or charities act in a manner that gives satisfactory answers to the questions below. This should not be a superficial phenomenon but be incorporated thoroughly into commercial life, the life of individuals and families and in the provision of public services:

  • Is there a culture of respect for all people with whom you engage?
  • What is the effect of corporate or governmental actions and policies on individuals as people and not merely as exploitable economic units?
  • What are the possible effects of economic conduct on the natural environment?
  • What are the effects of policies and decisions on future generations?
  • What are the effects, positive and negative, on community and country?
  • What is the effect on the quality of life and the common good?

The active participants in a virtuous economy do not engage in excessive risk taking nor promote their own unjustified rewards. The virtuous economy does not support the usurious conduct that has become rife in technically legal financial dealings such as payday loans as well as in loan shark transactions. Rather, it emphasises balance, respect and fairness. It takes the longer view and the broader view (of humanity’s place in the world) and seeks self-reliance both in terms of individuals, the things we depend upon and fundamental sectors such as manufacturing, mining, agriculture and fishing.

In accordance with both fairness and long term efficiency, a virtuous economy  will have relatively flat pay structures and an absence of the privileged and outrageous executive payment schemes. The social value of co-operatives and not-for-profit enterprises would be underlined. Equality of opportunity amongst citizens and the consequent benefits cannot be achieved where there are, as still at present, extremely large differences between the resources available to individuals. Thus for example, all employees of a profit making company should be paid according to the same scheme, including profit sharing, and pensions, differing only in the scale of remuneration.

The virtuous economy is one which operates in a manner that is broadly consistent with the ‘twenty four dispositions’ (see Appendix) rather than the hackneyed ‘24/7’ lifestyle of pointless work and dissolute leisure. It is one where the concept of the Common good as well as that of the current driver of private gain (since the two are not always be inconsistent) is embedded in economic management and commercial activity.

The virtuous economy is one where there is an pervasive economic morality and where respect is afforded to individuals not just within organisations but also to those interacting from outside as customers and traders. It is one without pressure to create unnecessary needs to make people dissatisfied with their present material goods or even with the appearance of their own bodies. It is one that is not dependent on personal greed as the overwhelming driver in economic behaviour. There is a fundamental distinction to be made between selfishness and self-interest. Genuine self-interest is a wider concept than economic power and the possession of lavish objects. It embraces respect for others, self-respect and the benefits of living in the realm of the common good.

The virtuous economy is one where there is concern for the national interest in the longer term – for example by having industry, agriculture and jobs that are available at all levels and for all ages and where the practice of sending abroad jobs, machinery, equipment and expertise is eschewed. It also gives more weight to achieving a greater degree of agricultural self-sufficiency and the interests of rural communities.

In the virtuous economy it would be measures of public wellbeing and employment levels rather than national output such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that are targeted by government. There is no doubt that such measures or indicators would be difficult to construct, but so also is GDP which has many oddities. For example flooding or mass illness are likely to increase GDP due to the activities undertaken to combat them.

For example, by ensuring that infrastructure work is intensive in labour rather than machinery and that self-respect (individual, communal and national) and other desirable qualities of the human spirit are accorded at least equal weight to transient and noisome consumerism. Furthermore, measures of natural wealth would stand alongside financial measures. Natural capital and population wellbeing would be emphasised. Failure to do this, in particular in developing countries, will further impoverish the poor and lose substantial current and future benefits.

The effort should be towards creating inside, between and with companies a joint understanding to secure the common good and the best interests of the nation as a whole.

National economic policy should reflect these objectives and take steps internationally to make sure that rival countries such as China do not continue to profit from flouting principles of fairness in competition and respect for people, environment and law. Equally important is the necessity of private corporations ceasing to make such ready use of the unrestricted reign that has been allowed to China to further increase their own profits.

In material terms there is a case for supporting a refreshed ideal of a genuine free and fair trade system – a balanced and reciprocal free trade that is. This is something that is sharply distinguished from the current excesses of laissez-faire globalisation with its plundering of natural resources and associated human exploitation and profiteering. However, the virtuous economy would not be bound to a doctrine of free trade fundamentalism such as we see today. Being holier than the rest in this regard does not serve the interests of the country, as we have seen to our cost, nor does it serve the common good.

The ‘market’ should operate as a social market and it should be understood that while capitalism in a benign form can facilitate wellbeing, it is not an end in itself. A capitalist model will only operate in the general interest if, as Keynes pointed out, it is governed by ‘gentlemanly codes of behaviour’ rather than the dog eat dog and punters culture so evident in important sectors in recent times.

Nor should the pursuit of individual wealth be an end in itself. The end, as Keynes expressed it, should be to live ‘wisely, agreeably and well’ – qualities which, if not wholly describing it, are at least consistent with the common good.

It is essential that full appreciation be given to institutions that support, maintain and strengthen the ethical conduct of business, people and Government. Their role is vital in the processes of social and economic renewal and in the righting of the ship of state that has come so close to foundering.

While it has become taken for granted in recent times that ‘The Market’ must always be bowed down to, in fact market forces are not sovereign unless we choose to make them so. They can reflect incomplete information and the transient, self-seeking and short-termist views of the herd.

Concerted action by national governments with the backing of the law could bring markets to heel. But the escape from their embrace and threats will not be easy or quick. And much of what are passed off as ‘market forces’ – for example in the excuses for grossly excessive executive pay – are nothing of the kind. The ‘markets’ involved here are nowhere near competitive. They have the properties of informal cartels and bear more resemblance to an exclusive club than even an economic bazaar. More of a fiddled Libor market than a labour market in fact.

The commercial banks provide a prime example of a grossly defective ‘market’. Competition between the banks exists to the extent of how much they can extract from ordinary customers who have, in the absence of public service alternatives, no recourse but to use one or other such bank. This is because the ‘industry’, if that it can be called, has an unreformed oligopolistic structure acting as an informal cartel – a ‘cartel by convention’ as it were. This is one that ensures that whatever penalties are meted out or whatever speculative losses are made, it will be the ordinary customer, small firms, the taxpayer and the junior employees who will pay the price in the end.

Even if there existed the will to implement it rigorously, statutory regulation on its own has no chance whatever of changing this anti-social behaviour, it has become far too deeply ingrained. One possibility that would bring genuine and valuable change and offer real choice and security to ordinary people would be to create ‘exemplar institutions’ with public service values that would break the cartel and force changes in corporate behaviour.

One exemplar would be the re-establishment of municipal banks. For example, in Birmingham there were branches of the Birmingham Municipal Bank right across the city and a culture of thrift, beginning at school level and lasting throughout life was encouraged. Mottoes such as ‘Thrift radiates happiness’ and ‘Saving is the mother of riches’ expressed the ethos of the Municipal Bank – an outlook far distant from that of commercial banks today – and its overall watchwords were ‘Security with Interest’ – in which we note the ordering.

There is ample scope for exemplar institutions beyond the financial sector for example in the once public utilities where abuse of consumers and the extraction of maximum profit has also been unchecked or in manufacture where the failure to invest or otherwise provide for the future is apparent.

 

3 Restoring the Balance

In the various reviews of national finances we have seen the greatest emphasis placed on Government revenue and capital cuts and a much lower emphasis on taxation. This is the basis of austerity for the masses. A still lower emphasis – to the extent that it was significant at all – has been placed on direct stimuli to production and the ‘re-balancing’ of the economy. This latter we must surely do.

As a nation we must become more oriented towards the longer term at individual, business and government levels and have an effective industrial policy in order to regain our former strength in engineering and manufacture, retain our dwindling influence in world affairs, promote the common good and rebuild national morale.

This need to think long at business, governmental and personal levels requires a proactive policy and the bringing about of benign change – technological, organisational and, most importantly, cultural and moral – in the interest of the common good. Change, elevated by some to the status of a cardinal virtue, is preached by politicians of every ilk – alas – but not with much success in achieving economic re-balancing, reforming the City – nor of course applied much to themselves. Change is an unequal, uneven and uneasy process for people, firms and industries and some, not far from the square mile, will endeavour to remain untouched and forever in the denial stage.

The relative perform­ance of manufac­turing raises important questions about goals, ownership, decision-making and questions of government policy – or the lack of it – towards industry, economic management and the balance of trade. The balance of payments depends on all internationally tradable goods and services, but while most services are not bought and sold abroad, the majority of manufactures are available for export and, equally important, import substitution.

Around twenty-five years ago the country’s balance of trade in manufactures went into deficit for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. And a decade earlier, manufactured exports exceeded imports by over half. Sixty years ago Britain had a quarter of world trade in manufactures. We are not alone, but our decline has been more marked than most. This need not have been so. But we have remaining strengths on which to build in both large firms and smaller enterprises.

Financial centralisation ran parallel to these adverse changes, with power piling up in London for decisions on which firms should be financed – the wrong sort of ‘Capital-ism’ as it were. The City’s craving to pile up money any old how has created a financial rather than an industrial culture with immense social and political implications. As a consequence there developed a relentless press for ever more profit, boardroom excess and bigger bonuses. Perhaps that is why we have a Financial Times rather than an Industrial Times. But year on year, surpluses on services and overseas income will fail to close the gap since the growth required is too great and competition building.

More than this, it’s a matter of national self-respect. Manufacturing rather than military might, now also severely cut back, is the acid test of whether you can cut it as a country. In all of this, wise investment directed at economic re-balancing towards manufacturing is essential to construct capital rather than merely bolstering balance sheets. It is vital to ensure that investment decisions take a longer view and are made in the interests of the common good.

Since the 1970s Governments have attached great weight to interest rates as an economic regulator, in some cases as the overt regulator. Since the onset of the latest financial crisis it is recognised to some extent that a broader range of tools is needed though there is little discussion of major capital investment projects.

Idolised by some, interest is simply important for economies, companies and individ­uals. But it is not just the rate of interest that is important. It is the method of its calculation – the compounding of interest – that can add remorselessly to national, corporate or personal debt when prudence is lacking or circumstance overwhelming.

The main influence on decisions to invest in manufacturing is profitability rather than interest rates but higher profits don’t always feed through quickly to investment. Profitability also depends on the demand for the firm’s products. So an austere environment of deep national cutting, with many other countries adopting the same flawed strategy damages demand and hence profits and investment and increases employment. Historically we have paid ourselves in dividends a higher proportion of company profits than have many other countries and there’ve been long periods where dividends grew much faster than investment – a totally unsustainable difference.

Lower interest rates should give companies a lower cost of capital. How much so depends on the nature of funding and how other things have changed, but lower it should be. But interest rate reductions don’t always feed through in full to target yields required by lenders and monetary initiatives do not always result in increased lending to productive industry. Furthermore, borrowed funds are often used for purposes of ‘financial engineering‘ rather than manufacturing engineering.

It is not just interest rates that matter to small firms of course, it is the burdensome and off-putting conditions of lending – such as the imposition of a requirement to repay on demand, the imposition of demands for personal property as collateral in loans to small companies and the use by banks of a narrow range of financial criteria. Venture capital is not often adventure capital. There is little genuine risk capital here, with much “venture” capital going to low risk firms in the south-east.

Large firms should review their required returns, time horizons and intangible benefits. Management strategy should refocus away from frequently useless take-overs towards more productive links and into growing underlying businesses. The banks should be made to ensure more reasonable conditions for loans to smaller firms.

The market frequently fails to value future cash flows properly. Stock market ‘efficiency’ is usually taken to mean ef­ficiency with information – the view that news should be quickly and fully reflected in share prices. But the market doesn’t reflect all information equally well. Another problem is with long term spend such as research and development that raises fundamental value, but if this doesn’t show up in share price, the investment may not be made with a short-termist outlook.

And efficiency doesn’t mean that a firm’s assets are valued for all possible uses or users, which is one reason for take-overs, although more compelling reasons can be found in the remuneration of the executives involved. Take-overs distract the firms involved from productive changes in the way that they work. Haggling in a corporate bazaar, sometimes encouraged by inappropriate accounting, is no more likely to improve the quality of businesses than horse-trading will improve the quality of horses.

On staffing and rampant and still uncontrolled executive remuneration, performance related pay schemes base staff rewards on short run results rather than long term goals. If targets can’t include quality and wider value, then don’t set them. We have a much higher proportion of accountants than engineers in company management here than in Germany, though whether this is a cause of short-term financial preoccupations or an effect of them is unclear. Balance sheet profits are not the best measure of long-term benefit – for the company, for the country or for the common good.

On the subject of ‘leadership’ there have been more self-serving theories promoted than sense rooted in the common good. But wildly disparate treatment of people with its attendant high social cost must certainly come to an end. In its place there should be emphasis on openness, empowerment and trust. Company employees should be used as problem-solvers and within a strategic framework, leadership can let the employees find solutions. Management must learn to use employee intelligence, maximise morale and minimize obligatory routine, and add value for all involved.

Corporate stakeholders should mature to mutual confidence, determination and patience in a culture of commonality that includes the many individuals with little power who are their customers. Qualities such as respect, fairness, trust, commitment and loyalty define a healthy frame of mind for people and for industry itself.

The country needs a new industrial psychology as well as an adequately resourced and effective industrial strategy to curb the prodigal coarseness of the grasping culture that has infected the economy for so long and which has brought us to the state that we are now in. The gains from a Quality Capitalism, against the alternative of still meaner and morally barren variants that we now witness, go well beyond an improved manufacturing industry. They will enable the rebuilding of national morale, and the personal and mutual self respect and security that contribute to the common good.

 

4 Well-being in the Virtuous Economy

It is a debatable point as to whether broad-based measures of wellbeing are or could be useful. Even the Benthamite concept of ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’ adopted by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson rather begs the question of what constitutes ‘good’ or indeed ‘happiness’ in ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…’. Shades of meaning have changed over the years, more recently referring to a state of transient euphoria more than a stable contentment in the longer term and a legitimate pride in the real accomplishments of individuals, communities and society as a whole.

Just having a job has an enormous impact on people’s self regard and wellbeing. Hence in any measures employment and wellbeing should be prominent and be policy objectives over and above GDP, which can incorporate unreal and undesirable activities.

Happiness is very hard to quantify adequately – in fact it is probably easier to measure discontent. Happiness is also hard to sustain which is why the deeper seated rather than euphoric aspects should be emphasised.  Happiness can mean many things – from the bliss of the moment through the satisfaction of increasing achievements in the prime of life to a value judgement on one’s life and family as a whole. In terms of happiness, what are the characteristics that we should value most? Personal satisfaction? The Common Good? Virtue? Liberty? Life itself? Pride in community and nation?

And equally importantly, society should consider those things that should not be valued? For example, people are not defined by what they own and unvalued items would certainly include those gains that result from unvirtuous qualities such as deceit, disrespect, exploitation, excessive self-reward and the degradation of the environment.

The more even and measured quality of contentment may give a better guide to overall wellbeing and the common good, overcoming variations of mood and short term fluctuations of fortune. Contentment, sustainability and the common good must be central to future social and economic assessments and underpin policy formation.

If numerical values are to be sought beyond the simplest yardstick of life expectancy, while all societal measures are imperfect and are open to misinterpretation and manipulation, any measure of the level of achievement, ‘satisfaction’ or ‘utility’ of the population in a virtuous economy  should have properties that encourage respect for every member of society.

Hence measures should be multiplicative rather than additive the better to reflect the detrimental impact on the common good of individual impoverishment. Hence if some individuals in society have a well-being score of zero, that will result in a value of zero overall for the measure regardless of the levels achieved the by more fortunate members and should prompt policy action and point to a direction in which to move.

The zero state, and positions near to it, are situations that should of course be eschewed and its avoidance is an essential factor in the proper workings of a virtuous economy  and in any consideration of the common good. The construction of future measures of socio-economic performance should bear these considerations firmly in mind.

 

5 Virtuous Exemplar Institutions

The state that ‘Anglo-Saxon’ capitalism has been pulled down to is such that regulatory and structural reforms can’t address the deep-seated issues. This is because the spots on the financial, food and other leopards run deep and because of the extent of their influence on decision makers in one form or another. Diluted options are taken, dates are put back, ways will be found around measures, isolation in the EU will be accepted and before long pressures will be applied for relaxation of conditions on the need to remain ‘competitive’ and the promise that ‘competition’ provides what customers really want. This latter is, of course, not so outside of the theoretical context of ‘perfect’ competition. The ‘competition’ in the financial sector delivers what the financial institutions and not customers and citizens want.

Other ways are needed to give ordinary people the simple and trustworthy services, particularly related to saving, that they so earnestly desire and which need to be provided in their interest and that of the common good. One way of achieving this is the establishment of what I term Exemplar Institutions set up by the public sector (or conceivably by the third sector) that provide just such services.

A start could be made in terms of banking services with the re-establishment of municipal banks. One instance is the late lamented Birmingham Municipal Bank founded in 1916 and which was closed in 1976. There is a desperate need for a real alternative operating on near-forgotten principles of service with fairness, respect and responsibility. The idea would be to offer complete security to small savers and fair and consistent interest rates for saving, to encouraging thrift – even explaining what this is to some younger people today. There would be no sales pressure and harassment to move to ‘better’, and for the banks more profitable, financial ‘products’ and useless paid-for accounts.

A municipal bank could keep both money and jobs in the city and be the means through which local authority bonds could be issued to allow ordinary citizens to support civic projects while offering a secure return. There would be some way to travel however since Government legislation in 2000 made the establishment of civic banks difficult and restricted the services they can offer. Municipal Banks still exist in name in a few local authorities but they offer only very limited services exclusively to council staff.

But a start could be made with a savings bank – as was done in 1916 – with the scope broadening later if the Government could be prevailed on to restore former powers. A municipal bank would complement existing credit unions, which perform valuable if small-scale services. And while it’s true that the commercial banks could try to stifle such an initiative (as in 1916) such resistance could be overcome. This is all very much in the interests of ordinary people, and it would apply to other cities too.

Governments have had an almost exclusive focus on access to credit and such like ‘financial services’. What we are considering here is saving and fair, and comprehensible rates of interest rather than shifty packages (where loyalty is penalised with craftily cut rates and spurious ‘tracking’). In terms of services that put ordinary people first, direct intervention of this kind is essential and that there’s no better way to start than with municipal banks.

It is sometimes asserted that such a move to recreate municipal banks should be opposed because competition from a publicly owned bank would be unfair to the rest. But an effect on the rest is precisely what is needed and long overdue. The rest have not been afraid to be unfair to the public and these financial leopards will not change their spots.

Creeping cartelisation is also a feature of other so-called competitive industries – witness the power companies and their outrageous leapfrogging price hikes producing mighty profits, squeezing everyone and forcing the least well off to choose between heating and eating. Regulation ranges from inadequate to useless, and toothless consumer groups are simply ignored. Unmitigated ‘competition’, meaning little more than a profit-grabbing free-for-all, is past its sell by date.

If such sectors had a publicly owned firm acting as an exemplar institution which treated people in a respectful, honest and straightforward fashion this would introduce a form of competition that was socially worthwhile. It would offer security and fairness to ordinary people, presently abused by commercial predators pedalling complex ‘products’ and prices designed to confuse. Commerce should not be a morality free zone, nor need it be if there was confident, principled intervention.

In a compelling novel, The Historian, a surprising number of librarians turn out to be vampires. Few would turn to this mild profession to find bloodsuckers, there being a richly populated necropolis of bankers, power companies, fuel firms, food producers and telecomm providers. The corporate ethics of yesteryear are a fading memory and national government similarly usurps its citizens – for instance security of vital data about individuals being discarded for petty cost cutting. So where are we to find the vampire slayers? Enter the unlikely (potential) heroes in the form of local Government.

We need not resort to garlic or religious icons. We must ensure that our services put ordinary people first, bemused and exploited as they are, and we should restore former services such as municipal banks that would offer a simple and trustworthy alternative to the financial creatures of the night. Oh for the days when a city such as Birmingham also had its own water, gas and bus companies – and a highly visible and locally accountable police force. Surely this is a line-up that would ward off the bloodsuckers and remove the so-called ‘need’ for savage cuts in local government.

We hear much too much about ‘creation of value’, usually for institutional owners and bonus besotted managers and operatives. We don’t hear half enough about the destruction of values that is a core reason for the financial and economic crisis. This latest tale of woe is symptomatic of finance as a value-free zone. We have seen the breathtaking extent of the pushing of deceptively cheap mortgages in the United States to people who manifestly could not afford them. And similar things had been going on in this country. For example ‘self certification’ – where often desperate people seeking a home were offered the tempting chance to lie about their incomes – was almost equally devilish. In the US the resulting ‘assets’ were mixed up with others in what were deliberately complex and obscure packages which were hawked to lazy, greedy and incompetent bankers abroad.

And how could we as a nation have produced leaders who have over decades allowed – and indeed encouraged – the loss of ownership and the evisceration of the real economy that make us so dependent on such dubious ‘services’? In 1986 the government allowed building societies to throw away their mutual status and cave in to carpetbaggers. Behaviour contradicting the principles of thrift on which ordinary people are brought up was thus rewarded. But a hopeful fact is that a majority of ordinary people still holds firmly to these values. Indeed these are the very people on whom the cost of the financial turmoil falls. What is needed is more opportunity for them to put the principles into practice. This is one of the reasons for the establishment of exemplar institutions. There is a major role for the public sector as well as the voluntary sector in these realms.

It will take far longer to infuse values rather than value into the financial sector. And please don’t tell me you can’t change ‘human nature’, whatever you might mean by that. If you take this view, expand the company you keep, get out a bit more and speak to ordinary decent people who would never dream of acting like feckless financiers. It is the nature of such people that is inspiringly human and whose example should be followed. We must also ensure that remaining building societies stay mutual, act like mutuals and return fully to their traditional values and approaches. There are continuing signs of unprincipled contagion from the banking sector – particularly taking advantage of, rather than respecting, the loyalty of their savers.

All of this could be done if the commitment was there. The economy is not an independent entity to whose whims we are subject – rather it is what we choose to make it. The common good can be enhanced with or without economic growth if we decide to do so. Exemplar institutions could be created and moral re-education begun, but it will take more than a weekend or two to put together.

 

6 An Economy for the Common Good

The common good is the overall and over-time wellbeing of all citizens. This includes social, psychological and moral components as well as goods, services and money. In its material aspects it will refer not simply to individual situations but also to what ought to belong to everyone by virtue of their common heritage and citizenship. While any form of economic organisation may in some aspects promote the common good, the virtuous economy has this as its primary and stated objective.

But the realm of the common good goes well beyond materialism and questions of ownership as narrowly defined. For example, it will include non-possessive attachments such as that which was felt by the community for long respected companies (for example Cadbury’s) or even long respected products. The common good therefore has as important elements both local and national pride and collective endeavours to which groups or society as a whole subscribe. Accordingly it relates to both individual and social fulfilment.

The common good includes together people and the environment, and the present and future generations. It takes account of their temporal, emotional and spiritual needs, the legacy that one will leave for the other and the wellbeing of the body, mind and planet. Society should be founded on this.

In terms of policies or behaviour, an action clearly enhances the common good when at least one of these elements (as decided by judgement rather than targets) improves with none being diminished. As with traditional measures of social welfare, the common good is unambiguously degraded when one person is diminished with none being improved. But also, for example, partisan monetary gains made at the expense of other citizens will usually degrade the common good. – the outcome depending on whether the redistribution is from poor to rich or vice-versa.

Our political system should be at the service of the common good – in this respect it should be ‘fit for purpose’ which at present it clearly is not. So also, ultimately, should businesses, not-for-profit organisations and other major social institutions such as schools, colleges and universities and the communities. All of these are valuable and honourable institutions, professions or vocations if operated in this way – pursuing their endeavours, their social engagement and their quest for knowledge and understanding and making their decisions in ‘the reasonableness of the common good’.

Any attempt to enforce decent behaviour on financial institutions, globalised corporations or some other companies through compliance with external rules is doomed to failure, evasion and procrastination. It is impossible to regulate all activity and an effective approach must include the cultivation of moral character throughout economic activity. There must be a reduction of scope for influence and renewal of both social and individual conscience and the formation of character that willingly adopts internal rules.

A profound cultural renewal is essential to achieve this in a society and a world that needs to rediscover basic, acceptable values on which to build a better future. Such a renewal will not be easily achieved since great damage has been done to the moral fabric of both the economy and society as a whole. However, given the malleability of human beings and the intense desire for a better society, this can be done, and a start should be made. People are increasingly alienated by a ruthlessly selfish society, they want to belong to a world in which people have a decent regard for one another and so are valued themselves.

Instinctive habits of behaviour need to be developed that reflect genuine respect for individuals, society and the environment. A desire to do good – in other words behaving virtuously – should become second nature. This is the basis of the virtuous economy and the enhancement of the common good.

 

7 The Virtuous Economy  and the Good Society

The Good Society will have a vision that is shared by all its citizens and in which all are participants. It is one founded on longstanding social and moral values that are endorsed both individually and collectively. It is a society that operates through a virtuous economy, enhancing the common wealth and the common good for all of its citizens, present and future. And in their turn, each generation, individually and severally, considers anew – and acts upon – answers to the question: “What is required of us to contribute to the common good and to sustain the good society?”

The Good City within a virtuous economy can be described as a city that has restored values – including the values and principles upon which its success was built. These enable the city to enhance the common wealth and the common good and to seek the harmonious common and sustainable life taking advantage of a ‘citizenry of good intent’.

The good society is a cohesive society in which all see themselves as participants and having a spirit of mutual respect and openness. People work together for understanding, respect, justice and peace, for a clean environment and sustainable communities.

The good society is one that succeeds in valuing all people, both their innermost aspects and their relationships one with another. The good society is one in which it is realised that ‘no man is an island’, it being understood that people are mutually interdependent – all are responsible for all. The good society is one where each individual can, if so disposed, make a difference (a positive contribution to the common good) through their own abilities and personality and is encouraged – and enabled – so to do.

It sees that everyone, can make a difference every day by the way that they live, recognising personal responsibility and the ability to affect beneficial change through their relationships both professional and personal, through their conduct as consumers, through lifestyle changes, through being active and engaged in their communities and in society as a whole.

Within an accepted context, a spirit of good citizenship sufficiently imbued and accepted on the foundation of common values, will bring forward offers of time, energy and resources that will make these improving differences possible. Beyond the individual, clear roles exist for the family, nuclear and extended, community groups, mainstream religions and philosophies and educational institutions in sustaining this process.

Many people may think that what they can do as individuals is but a drop in the ocean of need. But it is worth remembering that without the drops there would be no ocean. So in putting service before self, it is recognised that small service is true service and that what matters most in solving the problems faced today is what individual people do in their communities and in their daily lives.

An action is said to be virtuous if it has characteristics that unambiguously enhance the common good. There are many virtuous characteristics, but in this context they will include the following:

  • living with integrity and being honest and respectful in both private and public conduct.
  • seeking harmony and consensus, striving to unite rather than to prevail or partition.
  • being loyal and respecting loyalty in everyday life, business and governance.
  • showing respect for all individuals in society and recognising their worth, their unique personal and moral qualities and potential.
  • acting, where possible, to give meaning and purposefulness to the lives of individuals and enhancing the possibilities for fulfilment.

The good society should be concerned, wherever possible, with the conservation – or where possible the regeneration of – natural resources rather than the current exhaustive focus on their exploitation and depletion regardless of the impact on future generations and the human and environmental costs. In this it is vitally important to recognise that the earth is not merely an object, a possession that belongs to the current generation. Rather, we depend upon and indeed belong to the earth.

For their part, the great religions should interpret their traditions to create an ‘autonomous space’ for the common values of our society. Secularists (here meaning the benign, civilised and more traditional variant of secularism) should do likewise and for their part should appreciate that religious sensibilities could give much needed moral depth to enterprise and direct it away from perilous private adventures and towards the common good.

Good governance is a necessary virtue, aiding and abetting the achievement of common goals and involving itself proactively in this process. It would aid the replenishment of social capital, but this also requires the relearning of personal responsibility and the principle of service before self. The more difficult times get, the more we hear talk of leadership (usually by those privileged or otherwise self-interested individuals who see in themselves the requisite qualities) and its claimed merits. This notwithstanding the fact that ‘leadership’ of similar ilk in both business and political spheres presided over the road to the present decline exacerbated by austerity.

Now more than ever, new foundations for the concept of leadership are needed. This in order to bring about a type of leadership that realises that it assumes its authority from other people and which changes, or preserves things on their behalf rather than for their own aggrandisement or the private enrichment of themselves or their acolytes. It is a leadership that seeks to work with, rather than act upon, citizens. It realises that its power is temporary and that it is a trust that is not to be used purely for sectional, let alone personal interests. And it is a leadership that has as its driving energy the vision shared by society as a whole.

But given the regrettable experience that we and other countries have had in recent decades in both business and government, it is clear that stewardship is a more urgently needed and important quality than what has been claimed to be leadership. The two are not mutually exclusive of course, but seem rarely to be combined these days.

Stewardship is something in which all citizens of good intent can engage with every day. Stewardship would include, for example, taking care of the local environment and looking out for – and not seeking to exploit – each other. It would also include safeguarding what is left of our industry and worthwhile commercial assets and preserving the values that have served our society so well. A citizenry of good intent, the virtuous economy, the concept of stewardship, commonly held moral values and, with due consent, the many areas of leadership, are the foundations of the good society and the basis on which its aims are realised.

8 Regenerating the Economy

The Governor of the Bank of England said in 2012 that five years in from the start of the 2007 crisis we may still not be half way to full recovery. Professor King is right although his timescale is optimistic – a generation may be required and the horizon becomes more distant in every year of austerity. Just as it took generations to throw away the values and industry patiently built up, it may take a comparable time to restore them.

We are left with a degraded and disgraced version of capitalism and a state wedded to a sterile philosophy that sees no room for direct intervention in the economy other than via financial ‘instruments’. Linked to this is the steep decline in business ethics and morality. What should be done in response to the mess into which we have been led?

Government must adopt both economic and industrial policies that aid manufacturing, engineering, the industrial sector generally, agriculture, mining (such as is left), fishing (ditto) and related productive areas. Linked to this should be sustained research investment in science, engineering and medical technology.

We have seen the unreformed nature of the banks, the damage that they continue to do, the beneficial actions they still decline to take and the liabilities that continue to weigh on the public purse. Their spots run deep and it is abundantly clear that they cannot be relied on to provide services that help revive the productive economy and give a simple and honest service to ordinary people.

Nor in my opinion can companies in other fields such as food manufacture and retailing be relied on to provide a plain and unpressured service. Unprincipled behaviour runs deep there too and the temptation to exploit the ‘punters’ in the push for profit would not be resisted for long. The answer, as I have argued, is that government, national or local, should establish ‘exemplar institutions’ wherever they are needed – the first being in the financial sector with the re-establishment of municipal banks.

Economic policy should be Keynesian and interventionist. Major projects should be established – and where necessary delivered – by government in contrast to the present timid, private sector only stance. Contracts should be framed so that British companies get the business and create maximum employment. In particular, the opportunity should be taken to employ and train as many young people as possible on such projects. There are many possible infrastructure schemes – HS2 being one example, though not the best with its exaggerated claims of employment benefits.

Timescales for deficit reduction should be revised (already happening perforce as present policies fail) and more emphasis should be placed on taxation of those who can well afford it and less on cutting the benefits of those who cannot. This should leave room for investment. There are several reasons for this. First is the fact that cutting public expenditure on projects and services also cuts employment and tax receipts and increases expenditure on unemployment and other benefits. In Keynesian terms there is also a reverse multiplier effect – the negative knock-on consequences of people having less to spend.

The greater part of the burden of present policies is born by the less well off – and more is in store. This is wrong both morally and in economic terms. Those who can afford to pay more in tax should do so. Loopholes allowing the unprincipled rich to avoid supporting the society from which they extracted their wealth should be plugged tight. If some threaten to jump ship we should see if we could scrape along with a few less executives on bloated salaries, bonuses and padded out remuneration packages.

There is little or no correlation between entrepreneurial activity and the taxation of income at higher levels. I recall there being much joy at the introduction of a 60% top rate of income tax rate when this was reduced from 83% in the 1980s. There is no international evidence for a mass exodus in the face of moderately increased taxes. In any case, most of those who pay the higher rate are internal promotions in large companies and not entrepreneurs. At the same time let us encourage public-spirited attitudes, a sense of fairness and a return to loyalty to country and community.

The Government should push for a new international approach to the basis of trade. Globalisation is not free trade – far from it. There should be inter-governmental efforts to rein in global corporations and the grasping owners that have so denuded many western economies. There should be less knee bending to these outfits or appeasement of countries with unfair economic and social practices. Trade in manufactures is far from free – for example China is allowed to cheat in many ways.

Fiscal and monetary policy should aim for a sustainable and balanced level of demand. In economic policy the simple truth must be realised that in the absence of adequate demand, there will not be production and in the absence of increased production there will not be job creation. It should also be understood that the true meaning of the word ‘economise’ is not to make minimum use of a resource but to make the best use of it.

Policy should take advantage of the Keynesian ‘balanced budget multiplier’ effect. If taxation of the affluent is increased and there is an offsetting reduction in taxes on less well off people, then aggregate demand will rise since from an extra pound more is spent by those on lower incomes. This gives an initial tax neutral stimulus – and a subsequent net benefit as the positive consequences work their way through.

Furthermore, the present irrational structure of National Insurance contributions should be replaced with a flat rate that applies to every income level above a prescribed minimum. This would mean a top rate of deductions next year of 51 – 52%, well below the once welcomed 60% and far below the top rates proposed in France, and it would also give a balanced budget multiplier effect.

Quantitative easing is of limited value in getting funds to productive sectors and it has had a devastating effect on savers (and so reducing demand on this account). The effects on manufacturing investment of low interest rates have been damped and lagged at best though eventually lower rates should result in lower required yields and increased long-term investment if the conditions of lending are appropriate. But as smaller firms know to their cost this is not so, the banks being what they are.

Government should help to make industrial winners where we still have an edge. I don’t say ‘comparative advantage’, a dubious concept that has been used to rationalize the retreat from manufacturing. The view that the winners that we happen to be left with should determine our future is passive and vulnerable – as the aspirations of China and the East confirm. Trying to base the economy on ‘higher value added’ activities as if these were somehow protected and inaccessible to other countries, is also destined to fail. Unless action is taken these areas will go the same way as their ‘lower value added’ predecessors. To imagine otherwise is at best wishful thinking or at worst supposed superiority.

In the discussion about the future of the Euro, it is notable that the countries that are struggling most are those where productive industry has seen the greatest declines. Action is needed nationally and internationally to retrieve and repatriate industry already discarded through private profit driven globalisation. The external effects of the award of government contracts should be fully recognised. The country’s manufacturing and engineering sectors must be rebuilt – they, along with agriculture and mining represent the economy’s productive base and this is where restorative energies and policies should be focussed.

9  Getting There

Throughout this tract I have mentioned particular policies and actions that I believe are needed to remedy our current parlous condition and move towards the common good. They differ very sharply from current policies and orthodoxies. In this section I draw them together and add others in a similar vein.

Taxation:

  • Flat rate National Insurance – all income levels above the minimum wage 40-hour income.
  • Increase the top rate of income tax to approximately 53% to a total 60% with National Insurance contribution.
  • Re-introduce a starter rate of 10% for income tax.
  • Two higher bands of Council Tax.
  • Introduce a financial transactions tax along with other European countries
  • Introduce a windfall tax to deal with excessive profits and bonuses.
  • Simplify the tax code removing loopholes and increasing penalties for evasion.

International:

  • Take the lead in dealing with tax havens.
  • Form an international group to identify ways to eliminate cheating in trade, abusive working practices, use of child labour, environmental damage etc. and start winding back adverse aspects of globalisation.

Public Expenditure and ownership:

  • No further cuts to benefits with some restoration.
  • No further cuts in grants to local authorities with some restoration.
  • Greatly increased infrastructure spend especially transportation and power with some public ownership.
  • Reform public sector purchasing with awareness of external effects and constructed to favour domestic suppliers.
  • Renationalisation of and major investment in rail transportation.
  • No further privatisations.

Governance:

  • Introduce a well-resourced and proactive industrial policy.
  • Vigorous decentralisation of the civil service with relocation to regions.
  • Return powers to local authorities and allow a much freer rein in terms of enterprise and income generation.
  • Reform party political funding to reduce influence on policy and including an element of public funding.

Financial Sector:

  • Allow local authorities to re-establish municipal banks.
  • Break up the major banks to separate out retail banking.

Respect and Ethics:

  • Produce agenda of respect and ethics to run throughout all organisations.
  • Get business commitment and training with incentives if necessary.

Pay:

  • Legislate to deal with excessive executive pay and bonuses to achieve similar extent of control as in public sector. This to include windfall taxes.
  • Give incentives for companies to adopt a uniform pay structure across all levels and worker shareholding and board representation.

General:

  • Clearer identification of goods made in England/UK.
  • Have a ‘state approval’ scheme for food suppliers and promote use of domestic producers.

The above are examples intended to illustrate the scope, range and type of initiatives that I believe are needed to reform the economy, restore balanced growth and equity and enhance the common good. Much analysis would of course be required on details, levels and the projection of overall impact.

 

10 Towards the Common Good

As we know to our cost, the present mode of operation of society both in its economic and social aspects is increasingly dysfunctional and citizens are ill served by many institutions as they now stand. This is the damaged state that the country is now in. We are faced with choices that we do not want but if, in the longer term, we want to see an end to austerity, anxiety, inequity and lost esteem then I believe that the measures set out above need to be taken and they define the path that society should follow.

These measures – Keynesian, interventionist and equitable are entirely different from the policies of what is turning out to be one of the worst governments in living memory. They will take time – a long time – to have full effect but they are urgent and the consequences of not taking action are severe. The measures are needed to form a bedrock upon which a Virtuous economy  can be founded and enable the rebuilding of national morale, and the personal and mutual respect and security that contribute to the common good.

Good governance is also desperately needed – as is evident every day. Active and positive engagement is a necessary virtue, aiding and abetting the achievement of common goals with Government setting aside timidity and doctrine, releasing itself from nefarious influences providing its political funding and involving itself proactively in the process of building a wider and lasting prosperity.

Prosperity itself is by no means an ignoble goal, but it is important to bear in mind that affluence is a condition and not a value. The true worth of an economy is found not in measures of monetary worth or league tables, but in the achievement of a broader wellbeing and the underpinning social and moral values.

At the individual level, in contrast to this exploited, deceived and litigious age when good people are made fearful for their future and that of their families, a virtuous economy, a citizenry of good intent with commonly held moral values, and the concept of stewardship will make possible the creation of a good society well rid of the damaging negative qualities so frequently to the fore.

The re-establishment of respect in commercial life and a desire to seek the common good – in other words to behave virtuously – where not already extant, should become second nature at individual and institutional levels. This is the basis of the virtuous economy and the enhancement of the common good.

All of this could be done if the commitment was there. Outside of the governing class, the viperous sections of the press and the self-serving commercial elite, I believe that the willingness exists. An economy is not an abstract entity to be revered – rather it is what we choose to make it. The common good can be enhanced with or without economic growth – if we decide to do so. Perspectives can be changed, commerce can be reformed, industry re-established, Government can be engaged, exemplar institutions with a public service ethos can be created and moral re-education can be undertaken.

Wholehearted determination and patience are required but at least the journey this time would be away from the state that we’re now in and towards the common good. This, rather than our decades long journey away from it, and the likelihood under current divisive, austere and sterile mindsets of ‘bumping along the bottom’ for another two or more decades. The good society is attainable and our people deserve no less.

MW 3/2013

Advertisements