Have we had enough?


We had a fine AGM last night and a great speech from Gerry Acher, who applied his long standing engagement in corporate responsibility to today’s remarkable circumstances.

As Gerry pointed out to a packed Great Room, both Bradford and Bingley and HBOS had recently been given top marks by Business in the Community for the ethical standards. Yet all the time they were making irresponsible loans and taking almost criminal gambles with our money.

Whether or not the Darling plan works - and the big question is whether the solvency of the country will being sacrificed in vain for the solvency of the banks – autumn is ushering in a new age of austerity. Who knows when it will end?

After its own debt and asset crash Japan suffered its ‘lost decade’ of stagnant growth. For fifteen years most of us have assumed that this year we would be better off than last year. We exhibited the consumer confidence, not to say hubris that comes with this assumption. All this will surely change.

What will we do with the psychic energy that has been poured into getting richer, piling up our housing assets, spending more and planning to spend even more again.

What does it feel like to be in a world where just to stay the same as last year feels like a result?

Can any of us, apart from the old and the poor, remember when shopping was simply about buying essentials and, once in a while after much thought, replacing goods that had worn out? Whither retail therapy?

Before the roof fell in there was a spate of books critical of the culture of consumer capitalism, the waste, the inequality the triviality. John Naish’s Enough: Breaking free from the world of more is just one example.

There were many others in the pipeline. Marketing guru Jules Peck, and Robert Philips, recently sent out the e-draft of their book Citizen Renaissance, a clarion call for a sustainable well-being economy.

Will the economic collapse of hyper consumerism combine with the growing critique of its culture and consequences (and with the climate emergency) to create a fundamental shift in human values?  Or as the cake shrinks we will become even more hungry and willing to kill for our slice?

A friend told me about a recent conversation with a southern American. ‘In my part of the world’, he said ‘when things go bad the men-folk either get religion or they get drunk go home and beat their wives’.

What is it to be? Will we learn the lessons and emerge from this wiser and better or will we look for someone to blame before turning on each other.

There are big issues here to debate and new ways of thinking to develop. It is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the RSA to lead this discussion.

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