June 12, 2013

Hello Etsy Recap: "Good Jobs, Good Business, & Good Markets" - Good Economics According to Stewart Wallis

Stewart Wallis, Executive Director of the New Economics Foundation, and a jovial Brit, was one of three 30-minute presentations in the first opening session on Saturday, March 23rd, titled  "Reimagining Economy."  Mr. Wallis's presentation was the first of the three panelists and was not just a great intro to the day, but a great follow-up to Mr. Rifkin's keynote address the night before. In other words, anyone who may have been lost in Mr. Rifkin's session the previous night, got a lot more clarity the next morning thanks to Mr. Wallis.

Now, he talked more than just economics. He talked about environmental concerns, climate change, and the impact we have on these through the current state of our economics.  So lets get the economics over with. I don't think you really want me to go on and on about economics (I should note, I didn't do too well in my college economics class, but that's because I was tired and had no clue I would be in the business world to the extent that I am now. Age and wisdom is an amazing thing, no?), especially when Hello Etsy covered a great mix of topics and I'm itching to share those with you, too!

Stewart Wallis's main presentation was on what he calls, "the four U's" that are interlinked and causing systemic problems in our economies: Unsustainable, Unstable, Unfair, and Unhappy.  As any good Economist, he threw out the following data to back up these U's:

  • We've been on the planet for 175,000 years;
  • In 1975 we were using what the planet had to offer. Now, we've exceeded it by 50%;
  • Over the last 23 years, 80% of real new income created in USA went to the top 1%;
  • Top 400 Americans have more wealth than bottom 155 million Americans;

Daunting to think about isn't it to read this?  I mean, how is it possible that 400 Americans have more wealth than 155 million Americans?! (Readers outside of the US, I am sorry to be honing in on America's problems, especially when we can look all over the world and see employment and economic concerns for humanity as a whole.)  Even more so, how is it that we've exceeded the Planet's offerings by 50% in 38 years?

Mr. Wallis went on to say that we've moved beyond "trickle down economics." No longer is it feasible to even consider the idea that tax breaks of other economic benefits provided by the US government to businesses and the wealthy, will improve the economy, or benefit the poorer members of society.  The reason why we've moved beyond this is according to Mr. Wallis because economics doesn't recognize resilience, not to mention the way it is currently being practiced is morally and ethically corrupt. To drive it further, he said, "currently, markets are considered a religion and that's bad!" Amen!

He went on to explain that everyone should have a living wage and that corporations, if you work for one, should be providing that.  Instead, we live in a society where salaries reflect scarcity and scarcity creates over consumption and lack of opportunity in everything (education, medical care, food, and money).  If you've ever watched a show about obsessive couponers or hoarders, you know what I'm talking about. It's why Walmart and Dollar stores do so well.  When people believe that things are scarce, their actions mimic that belief.

These beliefs and actions are what is spinning our commodity driven world to chaos and why we now, have exceeded the limitations of the planet in the last 38 years.  It is why our oceans are with dangerously low levels of fish, polar bears are dying in the Arctic, bee populations are dying, and we, humans, are besieged with medical problems. Our systems are polluted thanks to our actions.

Etsy sellers and buyers are changing this, though. The Internet is helping to change this. Think about the shift we are part of, that is helping give back that sense of value to others.

So how do we change all of this? 

According to Mr. Wallis change comes in three ways. The first being, the critical challenge of - "how do we provide enough good jobs while remaining within planetary limits?"- the remaining two fold into this challenge. 

The answers to his critical challenge are many, but fairly simple:
  1. Shift in values - we must become stewards not consumers
  2. Shift in goals
  3. Shift in measurement
  4. Strong local economies
  5. Replenishing and enhancing natural capital
  6. Public service reform
  7. Strategic Governance
  8. Banking Reform (Markets as servants, power in markets, and tackling inequality)
All of these can be answered in how we see work. If you work for a company, that becomes how you are treated by that company. If you own your own business, that becomes how you treat yourself, your customers and business partners, and should you have any, employees.  This also means how you see your own relationship with money and the economy.   Mr. Wallis's list of what makes a good company, good includes the following:

  • Maximize returns to scarce ecological resource
  • Good job creation as a goal
  • Employees are seen as an asset and equity holders, not costs
  • Value of company is reflective of value created or destroyed
As for the changes necessary for the long term, to save the Planet, to get us back within planetary limitations, and to save ourselves, our values, and our happiness, we need to demand the following:

  • Countering Short termism
  • Changes to taxes and incentives
  • One bottom line that includes social and environmental as well as economic
  • Structure and diversity changes
  • Banking and finance reform
What is your part in making these changes?  You can begin by paying attention to you:

  • Your work
  • Your lives and communities
  • What you buy
  • What you demand
With those four points, Mr. Wallis ended with saying, CREATE A MOMENT OF CHANGE!

This may seem impossible, but it isn't. He's absolutely right! We can create a moment of change within our own world which will impact all those that we come into contact with, do business with, and share our products with (if you are an Etsy seller, or a buyer of Etsy sellers).  These actions will inspire others and before you know it, we're all humming a similar tune, a tune of change.

While doing research for this post, I came across a recent (today!) TEDxExeter talk that Mr. Wallis did much like his presentation at Hello Etsy.  I highly recommend you watch it, especially if you're interested in hear more than reading bullet points.

Next month, I'll cover another presenter from Hello Etsy. Until then, I hope you'll join me in becoming a steward!

As always, if you have any comments, or suggestions, leave them below.  Lets do this!

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