Tag Archives: social issues

Postgrowth Business Models

This is another post along the post-growth vein, please read We’ve had Enough Growth for some background on this.

Subject for this evening: business models.

We’re used to two major business models in the West today: corporations and private companies.

Corporations are legally obliged to maximise profit margins for shareholders above all other concerns. Shareholders being people who have invested money into the corporation and understandably want a good return on their cash, while in most cases, not working for the company and rather swanning around building up an impressive investments portfolio.

Private companies are owned by one or more partners and the profit goes straight to them. Their main motive is also to turn a profit, but they’re not legally bound to maximise it at any cost, so they might decide to pay their cleaners slightly more and make slightly less, for example.

The co-operative model brings democracy into the business world.

The co-operative model brings democracy into the business world.

Those are the two major ones, but several others feasible models (notably co-operatives, not-for-profits and social enterprises) are here and there in the economic landscape.
In terms of the post-growth concept, profit automatically leads to economic growth. That’s why every business person is chasing it like the end of a rainbow. But, in a situation where we – shock – don’t actually want to grow the economy – bear with me – then it follows that we don’t want profit. Not as such, any way.

But if that means we cannot have business, then that’s quite a stumbling block. The truth is, business is an extraordinarily effective way of organising human effort. Even though (at 20) I’ve never had a paid job more stimulating than waitressing, I still enjoy the aspect of working with other people towards a common goal. As much as I love the concept of volunteering, business just gets things done on a scale that wouldn’t happen if people were just doing something as a leisurely project.

So, can we have business without profit?

I think so, actually. The reason being, profit is only really needed to grow the economy – of course vital in our current situation, but counterproductive in a post-growth situation. Think about it. A business definitely needs to make money, because it needs to cover its costs, including paying all staff a decent wage, and it will probably need to reinvest money back into itself from time to time for one-off improvements. As long as the partners pay themselves a good wage, I don’t see that extra profit is actually necessary to keep the business going.

I’m probably missing something, so if you know about this stuff then please feel free to comment. But this is how it looks from a common-sense standpoint.

Diversity in an ecosystem makes the whole system more resilient. Similarly, I think diversity in the economy makes a more resilient economy. If we had loads and loads of small not-for-profit companies, community-interest companies, social enterprises and co-operatives, rather than a few corporate giants, I think this would deliver much more social value. We’d have a rich web of economic enterprises working to meet real social needs, while providing secure employment.

I’ll be posting again soon with more post-growth ideas!

On Naivety and Homelessness

My recent backpacking trip had many high points: swimming in the Portuguese sea, enjoying wine in the sun, seeing the Notre Dame… Low points included missing trains, paying through the nose for last minute accommodation, living on crisps and running out of money. But by far the worst experience I had while abroad was seeing a woman and her two little boys living on the street in Paris.

Trying to hold back tears, I smiled weakly as my boyfriend asked me why I was suddenly so moody.
“Sorry honey, but I’m just a bit shocked to see two young children living on the street!”
Holding my hand, he replied “Tegan, they’re hardly the only ones”.
That didn’t really comfort me at all.

I’ve always thought homelessness is a big issue, and I hate the way people tend to ignore it, or assume homeless people are to blame for getting into ”that state”. Even if someone has an addiction, that hardly means they want to sleep on the pavement all year round! In the UK it’s a really big social problem, and I think the government should be doing more to deal with it.

In the town where I grew up there was a group of people locally dubbed ”the brew crew” or ”the bench crew” because they appeared to be homeless alcoholics who spent their days sitting on street benches drinking special brew or occasionally shouting at each other. But in over ten years, I never saw any of them sleeping on the street. They clearly had somewhere to go at night: a squat, a caravan, a friend’s sofa. So I was a bit shocked when I moved to the city and saw dozens of men and a few women sleeping in doorways in all weather.

I think that’s bad enough, but before this week I’d never seen homeless kids sleeping on the pavement. Actually, I was at first glance naive enough to assume this woman and her children were simply resting on their way somewhere. It wasn’t until a few moments later that the truth dawned on me. For a split second I looked into the eyes of this small boy who was calmly lying on his stomach on his mum’s sleeping bag, watching the Parisians and tourists stroll by. He wasn’t much older than my 3 year old brother.

As my boyfriend reminded me, I’m well aware there are plenty of kids living rough all around the world. But firstly, there’s a huge difference between knowing a sad statistic and seeing a real family living that life with your own eyes for the first time. Secondly, I didn’t expect to see it in a rich western country such as France.
I still have no idea why the Paris city council didn’t give that woman somewhere to live. Having two young children and nowhere to go should put you right to the top of any waiting list. The family looked Indian. Of course they could have been French citizens from Indian descent, or they could have recently moved to France. Either way, they still needed somewhere to live.

I think the sight was particularly shocking because it was in such a posh part of Paris. It was hardly a ghetto or a backstreet of New Deli. This family were surrounded by rich Parisian businesspeople sipping overpriced espresso.
My first feeling was bemusement as to why they thought the pavement was a good place to rest, then shock that actually they were clearly living there, then sadness that these little boys wouldn’t be able to fit in with ordinary kids they’re own age, and probably weren’t getting an education either. My next thought was disgust with all the rich onlookers – surely largely parents – who did nothing.
Then I quickly realised that I had myself walked past on my 3 hour trek to the Eifel Tower without helping them.

I felt sick.