A Social Enterprise Economy

In part two of her three-part series, Andrea Grainger discusses an alternative to the traditional economic model and the benefits that this could bring. 

Removing growth as a top priority for society carries significant consequences for our economy.

Some myths abound about what these consequences might be. The most common one is that a non-growing economy spells economic catastrophe. Another is that a non-growing economy would never significantly change, but rather be frozen in time, with each year the same as the last.

The latter point confuses economic growth for ‘progress’ and ‘change’. Britain is predicted to have about eighty-thousand postgraduate researchers, and around one million people working in the ‘primary science’ sector. Britain is responsible for around 6% of all the scientific papers written in the world. There is no reason why a society without economic growth would want to fire these people, and stop paying them to innovate and improve society.

Without economic growth, we would still have technological innovation, but we would deploy it for different purposes. Rather than using new technologies to increase consumption, we would use them to increase leisure time. In a non-growing economy we could expect the working week to steadily fall, while annual wages remain the same. People would have more time for their friends, family, and hobbies.

As far as economic catastrophe, within the neoliberal market-fundamentalist paradigm an end to economic growth seems very scary. Today the british economy gets most of its business investment from profit-seeking private individuals. Since the 1980s britain has been heavily competing with the rest of the world for these investors, cutting wages and increasing inequality to try to keep investors here.

A fall in economic growth means a fall in investor profits, and would make Britain a less appealing place for for-profit investment. Without intervention this would mean job losses, and poverty.

Addressing this issue would mean shifting away from private for-profit business as the primary form of business in our economy, to alternative business forms like Worker Cooperatives and Social Enterprises. 

This is the conclusion endorsed by Social Enterprises UK, the world's leading global authority on social enterprises, in their 2019 ‘State of the sector report’. [1] These kinds of businesses, which invest based on their ‘social mission’ not based on maximizing profits, do not take their investment abroad when profits fall. They provide for a much more stable economy which can pursue radical environmental policies without fear.

Beyond green policies, a different kind of economy would bring with it many other benefits. The Social Enterprises report mentioned above also lays out the evidence for why Social Enterprises are generally more efficient than standard businesses; doing more innovation, surviving longer, and contributing more to their local community. 

Professor Virigine Perotin does the same from the Cooperative Sector in her 2019 report for the Cooperatives UK [2], which lays out some of the evidence that Worker Cooperatives are more efficient than standard businesses; lasting longer, enjoying low inequality, displaying higher labour productivity, and donating more to community projects.

The shift to this kind of alternative economy is not something to fear, but something to celebrate. An opportunity for a more compassionate and more productive society

Andrea Grainger is a researcher and community activist based in the South-East. Her research focuses on Post-Capitalist economics and Environmental Limits to Growth, while her activism focuses on building a socialist economy in her hometown. She helps to run the labour party network; Red Green Labour, which works to connect together labour party members working on radical environment campaigns.

Connect with her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/RedGreenLabour/  






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