The Economics of Enough – Is ‘Listening’ the new Black?

Mayhem on Markets…said The Age headlines – Stocks dive on global fears. Sharemarket sheds $55 bn

Down down, ‘markets’ are down!

Culturally, and in so many other ways innovative and tracking technology has ensured that we are all now connected, whether we like it or not. While we all have to look to our own countries first, it is blatantly obvious that economic recovery in the next few years hinges on a real dialogue taking place between all nations, which includes planning for action if people and our cultures and societies are to achieve real outcomes. As President Obama’s efforts to lift America out of its darkest days of debt crisis were finally succeeding, Wall Street went into free fall in August 2011. Australian markets, like many other world markets followed.  It took its biggest tumble in two years as the GFC (global financial crisis) spooked investors.

Since the aftermath of World War II, when the ‘baby boomer’ generation grew up with higher expectations than their parents and grandparents, the following X and Y generation embraced ‘brand’ values as a marker of celebrity status. So are we regretting the consumerism and social corrosion of modern life and will the ‘economics of enough‘ help us to achieve the growth of society and our planet by running the economy as if the future matters? There is no question we have finally reached breaking point. Being in the black has always been about being financially sound.

So is the new black now really red?

What happened on a huge scale certainly reflects a total collapse of confidence in global human economic activity as it stands today. However unlike a biblical departure of the Exodus kind, where landfall is hopefully for the protagonists inevitable, this one is headed into an unknown void, because it has not happened on this scale before. What we do know is that western civilisation cannot keep living beyond its means either individually, as a community, or even beyond that as a city, country or as a citizen of the whole new world. The Exodus from stocks has and will continue to hurt a great many people.

Never before has humankind been so out of kilter with its natural world environment as now. They are still cutting down the Amazon rainforest in Brazil at an ever increasing and alarming rate, yet science tells us the trees are required if the air we breathe is to stay clean. The fragile environment of our oceans is being denuded of fish. Despite all warnings Japan keeps hunting whales one of the ocean’s largest predators from the top of the ocean food chain, for a luxury market that caters to wealthy potentates or people whose priorities seems screwed.

In our oceans preserving plankton must remain a priority. It is an essential aspect of the marine food chain as well as a buffer for humans against global warming, contributing more than 50% of the world oxygen. Deserts are expanding and the arable land available is shrinking. Then there are ever-increasing violent weather events, famine and the large loss of natural resources that cannot be regenerated.  And what about the people and the planet.

According to much respected TV presenter Sir David Attenborough ‘we ignore the risks associated with population growth at our peril’.

Fifty years ago there was three billion people on earth. Now there are seven billion, which is more than double. This is an unprecedented increase in the number of human beings on the planet, more than at any other time before. They all need spaces to be to live, to work, to grow food. Infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, and airfields are required if they are to be part of a brave new world.

RSA chief executive at London Matthew Taylor in his 2011 ‘Enlightened Enterprise’ lecture to its Fellows explored the role that business can play, and should play in shaping people’s behaviour. He put forward the notion they should combine a strategy for competitive success with a commitment to social good.

The constant movement of staff in and out of jobs must be massively costly for companies. In some short term instances the fees and payouts involved must negate any useful purpose served while the person was employed.

As we know company executives are the new aristocracy, a word of caution might be in order. If they look to a past example Louis XVI of France didn’t listen to what his subjects had to say and ended up literally losing his head.

Rather than building more and more office blocks in the city and moving people in and out to reach their place of employment surely it would be smarter for really big companies to invest in cities of the future by converting older structures in and near the city to apartments to house some of their employees centrally.

These savvy big companies would own the real estate and provide committed employees with reasonable leasehold arrangement at different levels up the scale of hierarchy for 5, 10, 20 or 30-year leases.

This would give those who are single or a couple at least an incentive and opportunity to stay in town during the week, keeping them in the company’s employ and in the location they are needed. This means they would also help by relieving pressure on public and private transport and be able to help in reviving and supporting city commerce.

They would not want for a car as innovative companies such as ‘go get’ are masterminding modern movement solutions. It simply makes commercial common sense. It’s a Duke of Westminster solution. His ancestors invested in the city and the people they employed and he still owns half of London.

If the same employees want to be out of town on weekends they can invest in real estate at the seashore or in the country, providing support for country and coast flights as well as for rural and coastal destinations.

So just how do we re-build a sustainable world wide economy during the twenty first century when we are all on different pages of our evolution and our culture in every sense. With the understanding that ‘change’ can take a great deal of time in human terms where is the first place to start? And, do we need a global ‘golden rule’ that social responsibility must be integral to business models of the future?

At London the RSA is also exploring the potential of an alternative socioeconomic system, which has its roots in resilience and the productivity of communities. We do know we need a tidal wave of innovation, inspiration, creativity, industry, resourcefulness, courage, conviction and commitment to make it happen.

We need individuals leading the recovery who will invent new services, generate new jobs and ensure that there is an economic freedom for creators, those helping to shape enterprises built around people and their talents.

The upcoming generation of entrepreneurs and university graduates, who have yet to learn some of the harder lessons of life, will also need help from those who have gained a great deal of knowledge through experience. Guiding someone is very different to ‘telling’ them what to do.

In this regard perhaps for many learning to listen will need to become the new black?

Women will be a huge proportion of those people out there leading the way to the future. The switch to the digital age means even if they do have one or two children they will be able to harness their multi-tasking abilities more than ever and work from home.

Home offices will become an ever increasing important aspect of both the business climate and the plans of property developers.

 What counts when working from home is attitude. Setting and laying out guidelines for everyone it affects from the five year old to the ageing parent, who more than likely in the future will be living with you, is essential.

Rather than looking at this as a negative it could be a positive. Most of my generation coming from very large families grew up with lots of older cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents on hand to guide, to advise and to some degree, help keep youthful enthusiasm balanced with the application of common sense. Being relatives if they didn’t like what you were doing, or were on about they would most likely tell you.

Children today growing up with older parents, fewer relatives and two or less siblings will take longer to learn the lessons of life because they miss out on observing the mistakes their older relatives make which would otherwise help them to better understand how to avoid making them too.

We certainly need to get out of the revolving door, get together, converse and communicate and work out what is the best way forward.

Carolyn McDowall The Culture Concept Circle 2011 – 2012

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