The UK economy – as with most economies in the developed world – is largely driven by businesses that are owned by investors and for many decades, the profit motive has been its driving-force. While this ownership model provides a powerful driver, it also creates a problem. Being effective at delivering private benefit is all very well, but an economy based on the quFunding the future an alternative to capitalismest for the private benefit of some does not seek the common good of all.
Trading is probably the one single activity which has the most impact upon people’s every day lives, upon human relationships, upon the physical environment and upon the natural world. So the underlying purpose of that trade – what it is actually for – is of fundamental importance. What trading organisations are designed to achieve, what drives them and the way in which they are owned and governed, have a deep impact on today’s world and how our society is organised and governed.
This is even more significant when seen in the context of today’s global issues – diminishing natural resources, climate change, and global poverty. It makes little sense to attempt to solve these problems without acknowledging that the pursuit of growth and the maximisation of private gain might at best hinder these endeavour, and at worst be a major part of the problem. There is now an urgent imperative to find a different and fairer basis for business – and for business ownership – that does not ignore today’s social and environmental concerns.
There are clear past and present-day precedents for businesses trading for the public benefit, driven by self-help and community support rather than by narrow self-interest. Although such precedents are a long way from being mainstream, these alternative ownership models are being developed to meet today’s needs.
This is not a call for a new programme of re-nationalisation. Instead, it is an argument for greater community-based business ownership and the active engagement of a wider group of interests in owning and running socially-relevant enterprises. Significant change will only happen if there is a social movement with sufficient support to make it happen. If we want change, then it is for us – not governments, markets or institutions – to bring about change.