In a recent article in The Observer, Rowan Moore provided an incisive and sobering analysis of the ever increasing marketisation of London, which he diagnosed as ‘suffering from a form of entropy whereby anything distinctive is converted into property value’. The resulting landscape is one in which more and more land is colonised by new builds designed ‘not to make homes or communities but as units of investment’. Nor is it only homes that are under threat, businesses and social amenities are being evicted from land that is then redeveloped as yet more luxury housing, whose absent owners will not sustain the shops and businesses that remain. As Moore points out, this process is destroying social and commercial life, the very markets, pubs, high streets and communities, that make London desirable and attractive to outside investment. ‘London is eating itself’.
What can be done? The problem is immense, the issues are numerous and there are many potential solutions. Here are three ideas, from three different sources, on how to do things differently:
1) Change the monetary system
According to Positive Money, a not-for-profit organisation based in London, the money that we’re actually using for most of the economy is money created by banks to fund loans. That money only comes into existence at the moment that the loan is created, but from that moment on it starts to create profit in the form of interest for the bank. In the words of Positive Money this means that ‘the entire money supply is on loan from the banking system’. It relies on the creation and perpetuation of debt and ‘transfers £200 billion a year from the public to the financial sector’ in the form of interest. So, while many consumers and businesses are struggling to service unsustainable levels of debt, ‘if we all paid off our debts, the current economic system would collapse’.
The solution Positive Money proposes is to remove this power to create money from the banks and give it instead to ‘a transparent, democratic, accountable body’ with the result that money is created in the public interest and spent into ‘the real economy (i.e a broader range of business and other economic activity), rather than into property bubbles and financial markets’.
2) Don’t leave it to the politicians, join a movement (or start your own).
In his book How to Change the World, John-Paul Flintoff makes clear that we cannot and perhaps should not expect the government to provide all the solutions. He points out that history is created through everyone’s actions and not just those of a few well known and important people. He stresses how important it is not to fall into defeatism or to passively accept things as they are, if we feel they should be different – something that it is quite easy to do, as long as our situation remains uncomfortable, but not actually unbearable.
Instead we need to recognise our own agency and the full significance of the fact that democratic governments are meant to enact the will of the people, not the other way round. People need to make their will known, which may involve action, as well as reaction. Movements may grow into political parties, but political parties rarely start movements. Flintoff has lots of practical suggestions as to how act on these insights. Community organisations, such as those that belong to Reclaim London and projects like The November Project are already acting.
3) Frugal Innovation
In his book, The Frugal Innovator, Charles Leadbeater explores the possibilities of innovation that is lean, simple, social and clean. His view is that ‘innovation needs to be recast and rethought… a new ethic, less about a proliferation of products and features, more about meeting basic needs well’ and adds that ‘frugal innovators… do not seek to create from scratch a product which might bring them fame and fortune. Instead their frugal approach to innovation relies on ‘ ‘re’-thinking: reuse, recycle, repurpose, renew’. This is the kind of innovation that is providing radical solutions in healthcare, housing, education and arts and culture in developing economies where there is no private or public money to invest in the kind of complex and expensive approaches that ‘the developed world’ is used to. In these societies, necessity is the mother of frugal innovation.
However, Leadbeater makes the point that the developed world also needs frugal innovators, both to address the need for sustainability, which current systems cannot meet, and also because society is becoming more and more unequal: ‘the share of economic growth that goes to workers and wages rather than investors and capital has fallen… even if economic growth were to return to pre-recession levels, it would not materially benefit those on median incomes.’ If economic growth is not the answer for the poor and the squeezed middle classes, frugal innovation might be. Leadbeater provides many examples, from a range of sectors and countries, to show how this might work.
For more ideas and to share your own join us at #MakingLondon on the 18th July. Register at https://makinglondon.eventbrite.co.uk