Jacobin, the American democratic socialist quarterly magazine in 2018 launched Jacobin Italia as its first foreign language edition. Jacobin Italia has since developed its own lively independent editorial voice and in December 2020 the magazine carried a conversation between Marco Bertorello for Jacobin and four members of the Foundational Economy Collective. The conversation covered issues of common concern and ranged broadly over the key questions about the necessity for (and possibility of) a new political economy.
You can read the conversation in the Italian original at https://jacobinitalia.it/ripartire-dalle-fondamenta/ or read the English translation.
Die Leistungsträgerinnen des Alltagslebens or The High Performers of Everyday Life is an important new research report from the Austrian members of the foundational economy collective. They explain how Covid 19 has highlighted the importance of the key workers in foundational activities who, as the “ heroes of everyday life”, have kept things going by working through lock down, often at risk to their own lives. We can all agree that they deserve not only more pay but better lives after the, but how do we make that happen, The Austrian answer is through a broadening of the agenda of trade unions and organized labour so that they bargain not just on pay for their members but on the foundational essentials for all citizens . As in the OGB/ Austrian Trade Union Federation slogan, the aim is a “good life for all”
The body of the report is in German but English readers can find an executive summary on pages viii to xi.
Earlier FE research focused on FE 1.0, the assembly of material and providential reliance systems developed after 1850 to meet the current generation’s essential needs and Covid 19 reminds us of the continuing importance of maintaining these systems. But in FE 2.0 we need to build new resource and conversion reliance systems which safeguard the well- being of future generations by reducing the planetary burden.
Our first major FE 2.0 report, Serious about Green, is about building a new resource reliance system, wood economy, where the carbon sequestration benefits of afforestation can be levered by a strategy of downstream value capture for higher value products. The report explains that this opportunity can only be realised through supply chain co-ordination which has been absent in Wales where strategic good intentions have not been carried through into planting and processing.
This report is also a milestone because it is produced by Foundational Economy Research Ltd, a not for profit off shoot of the foundational economy collective. This gives us “skunk works” capacity to work at pace with outside partners on strategic projects which take the foundational agenda forward.
The arguments made by the foundational economy collective overlap with those made by other like-minded groups and individuals. The most obvious synergy is with those pressing the case for universal basic services because foundational thinkers and basic service advocates agree that individual income is not enough when collective consumption matters greatly. The UBS concept is associated with the University College London Centre for Global Prosperity which in 2017 introduced a concept which has since been significantly refined and developed. Our good friend Anna Coote, of the New Economics Foundation, has with Andrew Percy co- authored a book which provides an accessible and up to date statement of The Case for Universal Basic Services. In working paper 7 she summarises the case and explains how it relates to foundational thinking.
Understanding how ordinary places works is important because it can open up new possibilities of making citizen lives more worth living. Our new research report How an ordinary place works: understanding Morriston takes up this challenge by focusing on a district town with 30,000 population some 3 miles north of the centre of Swansea. The report is of broad interest because it analyses Morriston in a new framework about the collective drivers of wellbeing. Within a hard frame of local settlement and activities, wellbeing depends not just on income but on the functioning of supply side infrastructures which provide foundational services through local networks and branches. On the infrastructure of grounded local services, Morriston starts with the advantage of relatively cheap housing. The mobility
infrastructure is car based so those without cars must struggle. While citizens complain about neglected social infrastructure of parks, community hubs and high street.
Our new working paper Foundational liveability: rethinking territorial inequalities is a response to political demands in Wales and requests from academic colleagues: “If the main steam has per capita GVA and GDP, where are our simple, intelligible foundational measures” Hence this paper about household residual income and foundational liveability. This incidentally undermines the idea of a successful or failed region with a unitary character because most regions are liveable for some types of household and unliveable for others. It also makes the connection to financialised capitalism because linkages to wealth accumulation are at least as important as earned income.The empirics in the paper show how this reframes the UK regional problem because we need policies for taxing unearned income and wealth in London as much as for boosting the Welsh productive economy.
Our most recent report in August 2018 From developer regeneration to civic futures Report sets Manchester’s current choices in a historical context and argues that the city is at the end of a trajectory of developer led regeneration. And needs a new politics for foundational service provision which would once again tackle issues of collective consumption but do so in a more participative way which involves citizens. This report on the city region of Manchester is part of a broader ongoing concern with regional policy.
This new book from the foundational economy collective will be the go to source for engaged citizens, active practitioners and critical academics beyond who want to know more about the foundational economy concept and its relevance to the politics of progressive reform.
The foundational encompasses material utilities like water, gas and electricity and providential services like education, health and care. The book explains how the material and providential matter economically and politically because they are the collectively consumed infrastructure of everyday life, the basis of well being and should be citizen rights. The emphasis on citizenship is an important new development in foundational thinking.
From this point of view, the foundational economy has a history which began heroically and ends in degradation. In the century after 1880 national and local state action built up the supply of foundational services right across Europe and North America. Since 1980 their systems of provision have been undermined by state neglect. This is variably combined with privatisation, outsourcing and market choice which import the unsuitable business models of financialized public companies and private equity.
The book takes up the political challenge of thinking about how we can have a better future. It does not recommend specific policies but proposes broad principles for re-building the foundational which could mobilise old and new social actors in broad political alliances; ask the citizens what they want; reinvent taxation; lean on intermediary institutions; and do not assume the state is benign and competent.
The book is relevant to all of Europe and beyond and will be available as an accessibly priced paper back in three languages. MUP, publisher of our Manchester Capitalism series, leads in English in September 2018 with German and Italian editions to follow from Suhrkamp and Einaudi in 2019. Before you buy the book, do read our introductory chapter on this web site which explains the argument of the book here.
Mick Moran died suddenly after a heart attack on 3rd April. This was completely unexpected and it is still difficult to accept the death of a collaborator who had such energy and was already up for the next project. He had played a key role in the development of the political dimensions of foundational thinking in our collective, most recently by introducing citizenship arguments And he had shared drafting duties on much of our recent output so that Foundational Economy will be his last and our next book, when published in the autumn. Those who met Mick as a modest, wise old man often did not realise there was a remarkable back story which is summarised in our obituary. He was the child of migrants who had been born into rural Irish poverty; then had a distinguished career as a political scientist from which he retired to join us in our foundational project. Our intellectual loss is great because this was a life interrupted when Mick was still at the peak of his creative and innovative powers. But we also remember that this was a life well lived and know that the values of imagination of the Foundational Economy book are a fitting memorial.
Read our obituary here.
Swansea Bay report 2017
In June 2017 foundationaleconomy.com and CREW (Centre for Regeneration Excellence in Wales) launched What Wales Can Do a new report on policy for the Swansea Bay city region. This new report follows up the earlier 2015 report What Wales Can Be and adds new evidence, arguments and framing. The argument in this new report is for an asset based approach to developing the foundational economy in the region. The starting point is two observations about the limits of the main stream policies and policy making. The Swansea Bay City Deal which was signed off in Spring 2017 focuses on next generation industries which will never be volume employers; and more fundamentally, government (local, Welsh and national) does not know what to do in key policy areas like small business support and adult care. So what we need is a coalition of state and non- state actors to undertake scaleable experiments. These would aim to break down the barriers between economic and social policy and increase tangible welfare (not market incomes measured by GVA per capita). The report can be downloaded here. This is now being followed up with local funded experiments in Swansea Bay Blaenau Gwent.