What Economy Do We Want?

“The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make and could just as easily make differently” David Graeber

On Thursday 2nd May my good pal Piers Locke PhD had me come into MC for a movie screening of “Outgrow The System” a documentary by Swedish filmmaker Anders Nilsson. If you get the chance to see a screening I thoroughly recommend that you do.

Thanks also to the panellists Ali Adams , Basil Paul and Dalziel Paul for bringing some local context to the evening too.

Many people recognise the current economic system ain’t working but what do we actually want the system to do or be?

That’s what this movie is all about.

The original meaning of the word ”economy” is “household management” however it’s fair to say the word economy today conjures up different images.

When I hear a news anchor say “And now the latest from the economy in our economic outlook” I picture a Mr Creosote-type character coming on to tell us how he’s been working really hard and he’s stuffed.

The economy is the sacred cow of the West. The new religion. It’s Mediaeval Europe all over again. The high priests of finance and banking speak in their complex jargon, restricting access to the source of the truth.

Just keep consuming and you will find your way to economic heaven!

It’s turned out pretty much as JC said it would:

You can tell what’s informing a society by what the tallest building is. When you approach a medieval town, the cathedral is the tallest thing in the place. When you approach an eighteenth-century town, it is the political palace that’s the tallest thing in the place. And when you approach a modern city, the tallest places are the office buildings, the centers of economic life. Joseph Cambell

One of these complex words economists like to use is externalities. And perhaps that’s one of the biggest issues with our current economic system.

Economics Help describes them as “Externalities occur when producing or consuming a good causes an impact on third parties not directly related to the transaction.”

Yes, I don’t dispute that the current economic system has had some amazing positive outcomes. But it’s fair to say there are some significant negative ones. Pick your own social and environmental challenge and insert here.

Just think for a moment. Reflect on your own business.

What externalities are you contributing to?

Is everyone in your supply chain paid a decent wage?

How is your company spreading the wealth amongst its employees?

What environmental impact does your company have?

What does your business do for the local community?

The economy is how it is because we have created it this way. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

So what could an economic system that was accessible and understandable to all, that managed resources and maximised the positive social and environmental outcomes look like?

Well you need to go and watch the movie;-P

As a brief summary but without giving the game away the movie explores a range of solutions that are being tested as we speak.

They include the ideas of degrowth, the Not-for-Profit World i.e. businesses that do make a profit but put the profit back into the enterprise and share the wealth (check out Kilmarnock Enterprises for a great example of this), Doughnut Economics, the Wellbeing Economy, Participatory Economics, and establishing more worker-owned cooperatives. Another form that is briefly touched on is the idea of a Regenerative economy.

They do range from more aggressive types of reform (degrowth) to ones that are easier to grasp like exploring worker ownership schemes. Across the various options, the movie showcases how people are making some progress and scoring some goals.

The big problem though is that most of us are unaware of our externalities, and we don’t know what we actually want at the most basic level let alone what we want our business to achieve.


And maybe that’s why the vast majority of businesses are still operating from a Business As Usual standpoint. Make money, don’t do anything illegal. That’s the entry-level for business.

As described by me the author

Admittedly some of these ideas are currently niche or fringe but what is stopping most of us from even seeing that the current system isn’t working for us let alone thinking about our externalities?

If you are reading this it’s most likely from a fairly comfortable position both physically and materially.

And you are also most possibly stuck on the hedonic treadmill of consumer capitalism. Living a life driven by your fears and desires, controlled by the many multi-billion dollar advertising industry that just wants you to consume!

Meanwhile, a larger number of the planet are barely getting buy and don’t have access to the most basic of amenities, particularly clean energy.

And that’s because we have been manipulated into believing that a good life can only be found in happiness via material success.

This is Edward Bernays and I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of him.

Edward Bernays. (2023, April 27). In

The nephew of Sigmund Freud he was the man that introduced the idea of propaganda to the world.

He was essentially the guy who created the modern consumer-driven world that we live in. The one that tells us that a good life is about looking good, feeling good and having good things.

That we should chase material wealth in the pursuit of happiness.

He did this by recognising that we are emotionally driven by fear or desire and we need to fit into the tribe.

As he said,

“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it.”

We are deeply conditioned to play nicely in the current economic paradigm. And it is this that is at the heart of the challenge.

This idea of needing a values change came through in the Q&A session on the night and this is at the heart of how and why change will happen.

Gus Speth summed it up the best.

I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.

I have no idea which economic system is the best one. That’s well above my pay grade but I know that for us to get there it’s us as a species that need to develop first.

We need to extend our purpose horizons, how far into the future of doing good we can see.

Thoughts in the room on the night as to what this could look like fell into two extremes. At one end it was some AI-driven tech utopia of having more with less inputs and damage, others saw a return to basics, doing less with less.

I do know though that change is going to be messy and the very idea of doing business better is nuanced and all shades of grey.

But what we need is more of us to get involved. It’s time to reclaim the lost souls of business.

The first step to any change is awareness and if you have read this then you are now implicated.

I also know that B Corps are playing a massive role in shaping the thinking around what a new economy could look like.

Did you know that B Corps are now required to amend their corporate governing documents to ensure that they at all times consider the impact of their operations on other stakeholders like their employees, community, suppliers and the planet?

Some of the highest-performing B Corps are also worker-owned entities.

Think of how your business makes an impact beyond its financial return. Have a look at your broader performance through the B Corp Impact Assessment (it’s free to do).

Let me know your thoughts too.

What do you see as being the biggest externality?

What would your ideal economy look like?

If you want a chat about how I could help you on that journey I’d love to have a cuppa with you in person or virtually!