Session 5 Study Guide Contents
Essence of the Session – Transitioning to An Economy for the Common Good
Questions for ongoing reflection and dialogue
Full Journey Schedule
Contacting Your Journey Host
Open Zoom Line Instructions
Essence of the Session – Transitioning to An Economy for the Common Good with Christian Felber
In this session, Christian shares with us:
- the historic and cultural significance of the term ‘common good’
- his holistic vision of the transition to an economy for the common good and how this can operate in practical terms in today’s world
- how we, as sovereign citizens, can support the transition.
The meaning of the term ‘Common Good’
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith advocated for universal benevolence – a full commitment to the universal common good. The idea of the economy for the common good (ECG) is three-pronged:
- It is a theory of change – a complete, comprehensive and consistent vision of an ethical common good oriented economy.
- It is also a practical movement of change agents where everybody – individuals, companies, cities, universities, schools and governments – can participate and contribute to the co-development and co-creation of this model and its implementation.
- It demonstrates how we can improve our current way of practising democracy in light of the frustration many of us feel with our current state of the art of democracy. Some call it post-democracy; Christian prefers to call it pre-democracy because it is more optimistic.
Values of the Economy for the Common Good
Christian has found that there is a huge number of citizens around the world who desire an alternative economy that is sustainable, climate friendly and environmentally sound, just, solidarity-based, humane, social, and democratic, with less power concentration and true and more holistically understood liberties for all of us.
The common good approach includes all of these fundamental values:
- deep sustainability
- social cohesion
- relationship based
There are plenty of alternatives – TAPA
ECG considers itself one of the many TAPAS – the alternative to TINA – former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s acronym, which states that “There Is No Alternative” to how to do politics and economics. Conversely, ECG believes that in a well working democracy, there are always alternatives. TAPA stands for: “There Are Plenty of Alternatives”. In the field of economy there are many approaches, for example:
- The Commons (land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community)
- the solidarity economy
- deep growth
- the circular economy
- fair trade
- ethical banks
ECG brings these alternatives together in an emerging alliance based on an agreed upon common credo, which is that we have many alternatives to shaping a future ethical, common good oriented economy that works on three levels:
- Improving and strengthening The Commons
- Improving and democratising public goods
- Reshaping markets and converting them into servants for the common good.
In the future there is also a place for self-sufficiency of households, neigbourhoods and farming communities that would be a fourth level of practising sustainable, sacred economies, but the main layers of transformation that have emerged so far are in state and public goods, The Commons and the market.
Converting the market to serve the common good
ECG gives more space to common goods and public goods, but focuses itself on the market. Markets have a role today that is too big and by far too dominant. However, in the broader, more diverse picture, the economies of tomorrow should not abolished or eliminated altogether. The role of the market will be smaller and should not be capitalistic markets as they are today, but be common good oriented, fully ethical and cooperative markets rather than competitive markets. This is ECG’s contribution to the menu of TAPAS (in Spanish, tapas are diverse and delicious appetisers).
Public support for the systemic transformation of the current economic system
According to global surveys, at least 60%, and as high as 90%, of populations do not support the current economic system. In Austria and Germany, for example, where you might assume that large majorities of the population support the current economic system because they are such affluent nations, the reverse is true. In both countries, almost 90% of the population are seeking a systemic transformation of the economy. And they are seeking precisely those values of which the common good is composed.
The importance of citizens’ soveriegn rights to implement alternative economic policies
The ECG initiative started in 2019 in Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and after 9 years of development has reached 30-40 countries in all continents. They consider this contribution to the transformation of the economy as a holistic solution, meaning it is not only a theory of change, but also a profoundly democratic, participatory process to implement decisions in pre or post-democratic countries. In his 25 years of political engagement, Christian has learned that it is not sufficient that a large majority of the population supports an alternative if the governments and parliaments are not ready to implement it. This is why ECG proposes alternatives in which, in the sovereign democracies of tomorrow, citizens have the capacity, the power and the material right to implement fundamental decisions on economic policy by themselves.
The starting point: common good values are already enshrined in the constitutions of democratic nations
As stated, the model itself is holistic, which means the economy is simply an instrument embedded in the context of the larger society, which decides the democratic rules and values which govern the economy and not vice versa. These values exist are are already enshrined in the constitutions of all democratic countries. In many constitutions can be found the concept of the common good as an overarching, guiding value which includes all other fundamental values.
Christian points out clearly that what we do not find in the democratic constitutions as fundamental values are: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth, competition, egoism, and measurement of success in financial terms, yet this is precisely the value system upon which the current economy is based, and also how economics is taught at universities and business schools all around the world. Christian views this as anti-constitutional because these value systems oppose the constitutions. This is why Christian feels it is important that the economic system does not create values but obeys the values that are already enshrined in democratic constitutions and serves these values for the common good of the greater whole.
First and foremost the economic system should know, consider, respect and protect its broadest context which is life, ecosystems and ecology. Christian further asserts that economic theory should be married to ecology from the beginning and, as a consequence, calculate the success of a single organisation considering Nature. A sound or sacred economy takes into consideration Nature and all living beings, respects the law to first cause no harm, and protects all life from soil fertility to non-violent communication between humans.
The Greek origins of the words ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’
In its Greek origins, economy derives from the Latin root ‘Oikos’ meaning ‘household’ and ‘nomos’ meaning ‘law’, referring to ‘human-made rules’. Aristotle was the first person to make a clear distinction between, and an understanding of, the economy in which the goal of economic activities is the wellbeing of all affected members of the household. Economics is a social science and the management or human-made rules are meant to serve the goal of ensuring the wellbeing of all. Ecology on the other hand is a natural science and the ‘household’ that we want to understand is Nature. In ecological science we investigate ‘logos’ which are the natural laws.
Today neoclassical economists today tend to think of economics as a natural science rather than a social science. All they do is to try to understand how the economy works; they discover natural laws, at least regularities, which we then have to accept and adapt. It is an inversion of how things are. Nature is the natural phenomenon and we are natural scientists if we try to understand the natural laws of Nature: ‘oikos’-‘logos’. The economy then has to adapt to our insights in the understanding of Nature, and for that we need ‘nomos’ – the human-made rules which include ecological sustainability, solidarity instead of competition, and the wellbeing of all household members.
This is one of the brilliant legacies of Aristotle. Another is evident in his assertion that part of the definition of the sound economy is the goal of the common good and that money and capital are just means – resources or instruments. If we are going to invert this relationship, or pervert it, this is no longer economics by definition. It is its opposite – chrematistics – literally the art of making money to get rich. Today we do not use the word chrematistics; we use the word capitalism, which has exactly the same meaning – the protection or increase of capital as the highest goal. This means that climate stability, human dignity or just distribution are secondary to the protection and increase of capital.
In Aristotle’s time, when they thought of the economy they did not have the idea of scarcity, which is a very young idea of neoclassical economists from the 1870’s up to today. Instead they were thinking in terms of abundance. Economy in its origins alread meant an economy for the common good and considers the needs of everything that was considered valuable and holy at that time. (That said, Christian makes it clear that he does not support Aristotle’s image of slavery and sexism.)
Current day choice between capitalism or economy
For those countries fortunate to have a democratic constitution, contemporary constitutions have the choice between the opposing systems of capitalism or economy. In Christian’s research, he discovered that all of those countries, given the choice, opted for an economy and none of them for capitalism. There is no single democratic constitution that says, ‘we want a capitalistic economy. All tell him that what the overarching goal should be is the common good. This is an extremely positive message. For example, the Bavarian constitutions literally states: “All economic activity shall serve the common good.”
Although the constitutions are clear, the way we practise economic activities in markets does not support and increase the contribution to the common good. According to the ECG model, economic activities and their success would be measured according to their contribution to the common good. Success is measured always and everywhere according to the achievement of the goal. If the goal is the common good, success would measure the contribution of an investment of a company to the common good and the increase to the common good of the whole nation. Instead we measure the success of an investment by the return on investment (ROI); we measure the success of a company by its financial profit, which are the resources of the goal; and we measure the success of a nation by GDP, which is again a financial aggregate.
On all levels of the contemporary economy, we mix up goals and means. We do not measure success according to the achievement of the goal, but according to the accumulation of means. This is an inversion of a perversion of the true economy and is actually not an economy at all, but chrematistic capitalism.
Resolving the inversion or perversion of the true economy: ECG measurement tools
The core of the economy for the common good proposal is the resolution of this inversion or perversion. ECG proposes that when we talk about economy, we talk about an economy that is inherently, and by definition, an economy for the common good. It is a sacred economy and is measured using these ECG tools:
- The success of a market investment is measured according to its contribution to the common good using a ‘common good assessment’ of every investment and the financing of every investment.
- The success of the company is measured using a ‘common good balance sheet’ before the financial balance sheet.
- The success of a nation is measured through the ‘common good product’ instead of GDP.
Examples of common good products – The first governments to shift from GDP growth as the highest goal of economic policy to more progressive indicators include Scotland, Iceland, and New Zealand. The fact that in all three, women are the heads of government is probably not a coincidence. There are also indicators such as The Better Life Index, The Planet index and the most charming is Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index. All of these are variances of a common good product. Even the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could be considered as the successor to GDP growth. The SDG’s do not pursue one goal (GDP); but 70 that are by far better, more diverse, and more congruent with any understanding of the common good, although they still contain GDP growth which is a flaw.
ECG’s proposal is to determine how to compose a sound and democratic common good product by asking the people. The idea is to start in a community, in a region, in a city, bottom up first at local and regional level and then go to the national level. For example, it may be that the people propose 150 components of the common good, of high quality of life, of wellbeing. Out of the 150 proposals, 20 of the most relevant ones are selected and the democratically composed common good product contains these 20 most strongly supported components. All processes that ECG has witnessed so far indicate that the most probable components are: health, personal happiness and satisfaction, flourishing relationships and communities, social cohesion, just distribution, political participation with strong individual rights, good education, sound ecosystems, stable climate, stability of biodiversity.
In no case does money play a role at all. As we know from Chilean Manfred Max-NeefMoney – The Barefoot Economist, money is never a basic human need; it is just a strategy to acquire the goods that are able to satisfy our basic needs. If the common good product that has been composed democratically rises, then we are 100% sure that we are healthier or happier, better educated, experiencing a deeper democracy, fewer wars, less involuntary migration, a more stable climate and a slower rate of extinction of species. Something has to have improved significantly; otherwise, the common good product would not be able to rise. GDP would be banned from success measurement of national economies and only used for statistical purposes.
Common Good Balance Sheet – All organisations, companies, cities, schools, and universities would be obliged to implement the Common Good Balance Sheet, which measures the degree to which a particular organisation lives and implements the common good values. The Common Good Balance Sheet was developed in 2011 and has already been implemented by 500 companies mainly in Europe, but also increasingly in other continents.
Here Christian draws an important distinction between the Common Good Balance Sheet and typical company CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) reports. The result of the Common Good Balance Sheet is measurable and comparable, and audited externally in the same way a financial balance sheet is audited. Only when the financial auditor approves the Common Good Balance Sheet is it considered valid. It has legal consequences, including tax duties and legal obligation of company board members. If a company resisted publishing a financial balance sheet it would be closed down.
In the case of the common good economy, the company would also have to publish ethical information on its impact on the climate, biodiversity, distribution, democracy, and relationships. The result is measured according to a scale of a maximum of 1,000 common good points, and a negative result of down to 3,600 negative points is also accounted for. The negative range is necessary to avoid compensation. For example, the board of a nuclear power plant could achieve common good points by appointing women to the board exclusively and paying them well, but it is still a nuclear power plant, which means negative criteria are also applied. The effect is that those companies who do no harm and also do good would pay fewer taxes, have public procurement priority, be eligible for subsidies, and trade more freely.
The crucial point here is that today those companies that take more responsibility, who do not externalise costs but internalise them, protect the climate, respect democracy and gender equality, have higher costs, higher market prices, as a consequence, are at a competitive disadvantage in relation to companies that externalise costs and damage our common goods and democratic values. It is perverse that those who harm us have a competitive advantage; therefore to correct this perversion, in the common good economy, they would pay higher taxes, not be eligible for subsidies, pay higher interest rates on loans, and would not be able to access markets as freely as the common good companies do.
In closing, Christian emphasises that his talk addresses the main cornerstone of ECG, which is just 1 of 20 cornerstones. If you are inspired to delve deeper into the others, please visit the ECG website. You can also find out more about the movement and join a local chapter of ECG or start one in your own location.
Questions for ongoing reflection and dialogue
The following questions for reflection are designed to support you in integrating the content of the session and enlivening your learning journey and process of self-discovery between now and our next session. In Session 6, you’ll have a chance to share your insights, and, of course, you are also encouraged to share your ‘ah-ha’ moments and questions in our Facebook Group between now and then. You may also wish to engage in live dialogue with your Buddy Group around these questions by using our Open Zoom Line: see Open Zoom Line Instructions below.
- You are invited to research your own country’s constitution. What elements of the common good values are already enshrined within it? To what extent are these values being applied in society and to the economy?
- What initiatives towards an economy for the common good are you aware of that are being experimented with in your own location?
- What small steps might you take to further or begin to implement the common good values in your location?
- What challenges might there be to implementing the common good model in your own location? How might these challenges be overcome?
- How would you organise if you got together in your community, your neighbourhood, your village or city, a democratic assembly of the citizens in order to compose, in a participatory process, a Common Good product?
Christian’s personal website: https://christian-felber.at/en/home/
Economy for the Common Good website: https://www.ecogood.org/en/
Videos featuring Christian:
Books authored by Christian:
- 50 Suggestions for a Fairer World
- New Values for the Economy, Let’s Save the Euro!
- Change Everything: Creating an Economy for the Common Good
- Money – The New Rules of the Game
- Trading for Good
General New Story Resources:
- Check out our Blog on the New Story Hub website.
- Explore our film, video and book recommendations in the Resources section of the New Story Hub website.
- Engage with our Public New Story Community Facebook Page in addition to our Private ‘Living the New Story’ Facebook Group.
- Watch our documentary film – An Enquiry into A New Story for Humanity: Change the Story, Change the World, featuring Charles Eisenstein.
Always there is a beginning
Edward Searl, We Pledge Our Hearts
Always there is a beginning
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year.
Forever the old passes away
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.
Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
What was, in some way,
though changed in form.
This moment is a beginning;
and your lives,
individually and together,
are full of richness, of freshness,
of hope and of promise.
Full Journey Schedule
Please join us next time for:
‘Living the New Story’ Session 6
Love Economy: A Vision for Our Future
6 February, 2020 19.00-21.00, UK time
Contacting Your Journey Host
For support or fielding of questions, please feel free to contact Mattie, who is very happy to be in touch: [email protected]
Open Zoom Line Instructions
Welcome to our Open Zoom Line!
The intent of the Open Zoom Line is to support you to self-organise and continue to engage with one another around topics of interest between our monthly live sessions. For example, you may use the line to:
You have two options:
- Start a meeting spontaneously.
- Reserve a meeting at a specific date and time using our Booking Form.
How to Book the Zoom line
To reserve the line for a specific date and time, fill out the online Booking Form, which will output to our Google spreadsheet of reserved meetings.
How to Check for Reservations or Upcoming Meetings
You can check the schedule for existing reservations and upcoming meetings here.
How to Access the Zoom Line
You have the option to join from your computer/android device or to dial in as shown below.
- Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/119932455
iPhone one-tap using Meeting ID 119-932-455:
United Kingdom: +442030512874,,845564652# or +442036950088,,845564652#
Telephone using Meeting ID 119-932-455:
Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
United Kingdom: +44 (0) 20 3051 2874 or +44 (0) 20 3695 0088
International numbers available: https://zoom.us/u/hN5QJnGL
You can use the Open Zoom Line without anyone being a host. If you want to video record or set up breakout rooms, see ‘Signing in as Host’ below.
How to Invite Fellow Participants to Join
Once you have filled out the Booking Form, let others know by emailing the members of your Buddy Group or, if you are inviting all fellow participants to join, by posting a note with the meeting link to the Facebook Group.
If more than one group wants to use the line simultaneously
In this case, you can use the Zoom ‘Breakouts’ feature to divide participants into groups. Using the Zoom breakout interface is quite easy. Watch this for more information.
You’ll need to use the ‘host key’ to access this feature (see ‘Signing in as Host’ below).
Signing in as ‘Host’ to Access Recording and Breakout Features
You can use Zoom without anyone being signed in as the host, but for video recording and breakouts, you will need to sign in as the host.
To do this, join the Zoom line, click the ‘Participants’ icon at the bottom of the Zoom window, select yourself, and then click ‘more’ at the bottom of the pop-up window, followed by ‘claim host.’ When prompted, enter the host key code: 821205
Zoom Meeting Recordings
A recording of your meeting will process on your computer once you leave the Zoom call. It will be placed in the Zoom folder on your hard drive, which has subfolders for each call you record (or for any calls where you save the chat).
Practise Using the Line
If you want to practise signing on as host and familiarise yourself with Zoom’s features, have a go when you see that the line is free.
If You Have Questions
Email Mattie who is happy to assist: [email protected]