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Adventures in the New Economics kicks off!

by Jonathan Dawson

The third annual series of autumn talks, Adventures in the New Economics, hosted by Transition Town Totnes and Schumacher College kicked off last Wednesday with a talk by Donnie Mclurchan on ‘The Economics of Enough’. Founder of the Post Growth Institute and of Free Money Day, Donnie has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the new not-for-profit enterprise scene. Indeed, he makes a strong case for this sector being a major engine of disruptive change with the capacity to transform the way in which we provide for our needs. In fact, he goes so far as to say that a combination of resource constraint and the dynamic growth of the not-for-profit sector will spell the end of capitalism as we know it.

Donnie presented a lot of evidence in support of his case: the flourishing of credit unions in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis; the rapid growth in the number and scale of not-for-profits that he claims today account for nine per cent – and rising – of the UK’s GDP; the recent surge in the creation of new social enterprises……. They offer advantages, he suggests, over conventional, profit-oriented businesses that makes their long-term ascendancy inevitable – a more motivated workforce, the social capital that accumulates with community buy-in; avoiding the costs associated with protecting intellectual property rights; profits re-invested rather than diverted in the form of profits to share-holders.

Yet, in the discussions that followed Donnie’s talk, there were lingering suspicions among some that he may just have been guilty of over-stating his case. For sure, not-for-profits have much to contribute in the transition to a more just and resilient economy. However, is there no really place for profit-oriented enterprise in this transition. I found myself doodling a flower with four petals – one was labelled ‘local independent traders’, another ‘open source, networked enterprise’, a third ‘cooperatives’, the fourth ‘not-for profits’. This represents a more inclusive vision, expounded most powerfully in recent years in Gus Alperovitz’s Pluralist Commonwealth in which many organisational forms have complementary roles to play in the transition.

There were also concerns expressed that some pretty conventional, exploitative businesses have found ways of escaping tax by incorporating as not-for-profits, including IKEA and the National Football Association in the US that last year paid its CEO $44.2 million http://heavy.com/sports/2014/09/roger-goodell-salary-money-compensation-bonus/

All grist to mill. This kind of debate aimed at helping us get clearer about the nature of the challenges facing us and workable, effective solutions to them is precisely what the Adventures….. series was created to facilitate. Three cheers to Donnie for being such a good opening presenter and able debater.


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