- Marta Barreiro
Utopian economics: Christian Felber and the Economy for the Common Good
Have you ever dreamt of an economy for all? Do you think that an economic system which could contribute to both society and the environment is just a utopian idea which we will never be able to put into practice?
Since it is becoming apparent that capitalism is endangering our democracies, it is necessary to address a critical approach to our economic system: what parts of it are reprehensible and need to be improved? This is the question that Christian Felber, an Austrian writer, dancer and university teacher of economics, has tried to answer with his Economy for the Common Good.
The starting point for his theory is the fact that European constitutions claim that the goal of any economy should only be to contribute to their societies. “All economic activity will serve the common good”, says, for instance, article 151 of the Bavarian Constitution. This is the principle that is supposed to guide our economies, but it seems that our political institutions have instead followed the famous Groucho Marx statement: “those are my principles, if you don’t like them, well… I have others”. The common good has been replaced by values such as GDP, financial benefit, growth, success, and competitiveness. How will we be able to measure the social contribution of an economy with indicators like these?
In this scenario, Christian Felber proposes his utopian idea, a new way of measuring the contribution of economic agents based on five basic principles: human dignity, solidarity, ecological sustainability, social justice and democratic co-determination & transparency. Following his proposal, economic agents should take an exam: those who get a bad mark will face legal difficulties, and those who get a good one will be rewarded. In this way, products and services that are produced more ethically will be cheaper and enterprises which don’t respect human or environmental rights will have to change their modus operandi if they want to survive.
To put it in a nutshell, what he suggests to do with economic agents is the same thing that the waiters of this Spanish café are doing to their customers: favouring those who behave well and encouraging the rudest ones to improve their manners.
“‘One coffee’: 2’80€. ‘One coffee, please’: 1’80€.
‘Good morning, when you can, bring me a coffee’: 80 cents.”
With the Economy for the Common Good, Christian Felber pursues a reconciliation between democratic values and the financial world. His utopian idea is becoming a reality: since the beginning of the movement, in October 2010, they have gained 9200 supporters across the world (6820 individuals, 2041 businesses, 266 associations, 8 municipalities, and 65 politicians), the European Union has approached his initiative and the project is becoming stronger as it connects with other alternative economic systems who see money not as an end in itself but as a means to contribute to our societies.
If you like Christian’s dance moves and the statement on the Spanish café board, you may find these links about the Economy for the Common Good interesting:
-Economy for the Common Good: a Ted Talk by Christian Felber: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsO-b0_r-5Y
-Webpage in English of ECG (for deeper explanations on the history and principles of the initiative): www.ecogood.org
-Forum of alternative economies taking place in Málaga, Spain (April, 2017).
(Website Editor: Qi Sun)