What is the foundational economy?

The Foundational Approach (2020) is an up to date guide which provides an overview of our developing argument. The Foundational Economy: Thinking and Doing presentation (Newcastle 2021) offers an introduction to the basics in power point slides; The Challenge of Foundational Renewal presentation (Cardiff, 2020) focuses on the nature and climate emergency. Our post Covid-19 current policy agenda is summarised in the Ten Point Platform, available on this website in Dutch, English, German, Italian and Spanish.

These introductions make three basic points:

  • The well-being of Europe’s citizens in current and future generations depends less on individual consumption and more on their social consumption of essential goods and services in the foundational economy. This includes the material infrastructure of pipes and cables which connect households plus providential services like health and care which altogether keep citizens safe and civilised.  But they are neither created nor renewed automatically as individual incomes increase.  
  • The distinctive, primary role of public policy should therefore be to secure the supply of basic goods and services for all citizens in a socially responsible way (not boosting private consumption to deliver economic growth). The socially responsible qualifier implies two things: first, decent wages and conditions for the large numbers engaged as key workers in providing foundational goods and services, second foundational provision for the current generation of citizens should not aggravate the nature and climate emergency through its planetary burden.
  • Universal basic services are a political matter of citizen entitlement but we have to deliver foundational renewal in a polity where our reach exceeds grasp because political agency is splintered, economic interests obstruct change and we often do not start by knowing what to do. So, the foundational approach is about “how “and the careful practice of policy, with a cautious transition to radical transformation through learning by doing and putting together political alliances for change.

All this grows out of earlier work whose positions have not been renounced but have been incorporated in subsequent restatements.  The foundational concept was originally introduced in the 2013 Manifesto for the foundational economy  This argued there was a large, neglected and sheltered economy with around 40% of the workforce engaged in providing households with basic goods and services. In the past seven years we have been developing the argument about how and why this matters.

The most influential and extended statement of our argument is developed in the Foundational Economy book which was published in English in autumn 2018 and appeared in Italian and German in 2019. This book introduced arguments about citizenship taken up in the essays collected in the 2020 book The Foundational Economy and Citizenship.

Public interest reports and team authored books – The End of The Experiment (2014), What a Waste (2015) and Il Capitale Quotidiano (2016) – developed our argument about how foundational provision was compromised when privatisation and outsourcing introduced financialised providers with targets of double digit returns on capital and expectations of growth. Recent work has explicitly moved beyond critique to thinking through alternatives which require new metrics like residual household income as proposed in our working paper on Cohesion through Housing (2020)

Our emphasis is on engaging specifics and any overview needs to be complemented by  analysis of place and sectoral studies  So readers may find it useful to turn to a recent  report on  the Welsh district town of Morriston How an Ordinary Place Works (2020) or the classic sectoral study of adult residential care  Where Does The Money Go (2017)

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