is a new system the answer to all our problems?

A lot seems to be going wrong at the moment. Mel and Alex discuss what the root cause is, and how we can attempt to fix it.

Alex Matthews: We seem to be in a bit of an ‘omnishambles’ in the UK at the moment. Every time you read a newspaper or switch on the TV or radio there’s a story about something else that has gone wrong with the economy. We’ve had an energy crisis, a carbon dioxide crisis (which is affecting entire industries such as food and healthcare), a petrol crisis, increasing inflation, poverty, a shortage of workers…  And then, of course, there is climate change which affects everything and everyone. These are all a result of systemic failures in the economy, exacerbated no doubt by a combination of the pandemic and Brexit – but why are our systems so vulnerable, and what can we do about it?

Mel Young: There are certainly some major problems in the UK and they appear to be worse than other Western economies. There has obviously been a lot of disruption in the global economy as a result of actions taken by governments due to the pandemic. It seems that a breakdown in one system is breaking down other systems which are interconnected. It is rather like watching a virus affecting your computer as it quickly starts to shut your entire down. We seem to have built a complex matrix which is proving very difficult to fix. So, the simple answer to your challenging question is to create a completely new system. 

I remember listening to Muhammad Yunus some years back and he likened the global economic system to an old car that kept breaking down. The car was repaired but then it broke down again and was repaired; again and again. So, he asked which CEO would keep repairing his car if it kept breaking down? No one, he said, because they would buy a new car. The point he was making is that we need a new economic system. And we can see right now, how once again the system is breaking down and mechanics are trying to fix it again.

That new system needs to be based on some shared simple values for a start. That’s where we need to be looking and that’s what the New Ism needs to be based on.

AM: Yes I agree that we need a totally new system – ideally we need to throw the current one out and start all over again. We need new leadership with a new, sustainable vision for the future, a vision that we can all get on board with so that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. As individuals, it doesn’t feel like there is much we can do except watch on in horror, but if we felt that our leaders had a vision and a plan, I think we’d all feel much more inclined to do our bit. We were talking earlier about how if we all committed to buying as much as possible from local suppliers, for example, we would have much shorter supply chains – and shorter supply chains are much more robust. We wouldn’t have to worry so much about a shortage of lorry drivers, or stricter customs, for example. Most people don’t buy locally at the moment because it’s less convenient and it feels like it won’t make much difference – but if we were all doing it and felt that the government was promoting and rewarding that approach, it could be very powerful.

MY: You make a good point about buying locally and I think we have seen a trend towards this during the pandemic where people have tried to support local small traders who live in the community rather than bigger chains. Buying locally is only part of a solution, I believe. You can imagine a situation where a local area was well off for natural resources for example and was able to prosper but wouldn’t share it with a neighbouring local area that was poorer. So, there has to be a system of sharing and indeed trading in order for people to prosper together. Maybe we need to create a system where we “buy local but think global” or maybe not?

AM: Yes, we definitely need to think global too – as you say, not everywhere is blessed with the same resources, but we need to find new ways to trade that are more reliable and less vulnerable to failures of the system. 

It goes deeper than just where and what we buy. As you’ve mentioned above, it’s about building a new system based on values – how do we want to live? How can we be more resilient, more conscious and more community-minded? How can we support our communities, but also other communities or even countries? Most people are good, and they want others to be happy as well as themselves – and they want a sustainable future for the planet. We need to create a system that taps into those desires, that brings out the good rather than the greedy in us. 

MY: Absolutely right. That’s the challenge and it is huge but there is an imperative. We know that the current system isn’t sustainable so we need to come up with a new one. I agree that we need to start with the values and build out the practicalities of implementing it from there. Currently, the car has broken down again and I am sure it will be fixed in some way but the next time it breaks down – and it surely will – it might not be able to start again and then we will all be in trouble. We need help in thinking through what a new and equitable system looks like.

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