Searching for the Common Good

Aug 8, 2018 by

Most citizens long for an alternative to the current economic system. Next to the many options such as Circular Economy, Community Economies and many more, one of them is the Economy for the Common Good. The current system disregards societal values such as human rights, trust, dignity but also prioritizes efficiency, money and egoism. With his Economy of the Common Good, Christian Felber proposes a new framework.

The core of Felber’s Economy of the Common Good is a truly holistic one, encouraging the democratic participation of individuals, companies, municipalities, governments, banks, educational institutions of science and research. Opposed to the current system where money represents the ultimate goal, the proposed alternative introduces money as the means for advancing the common good. This goes back to Aristotle’s idea of “oikonomia” which states that the economy should support the creation of a purposeful, good life. Looking at several constitutions, there is not a single constitution stating that the goal of the economy is to accumulate capital. For example, the Bavarian constitution says: “The economic activity in its entirety serves the common good”. Unfortunately, this does not translate into the current way of doing business.

Maximization of profit and accumulation of resources are usually the targets of economic actors. According to Felber’s theory, success has to be measured differently, with the help of new indicators. At the macroeconomic level, GDP should be replaced with the Common Good Product. At the level of enterprise, the Common Good Balance Sheets indicates whether a company complies with standards such as human dignity, solidarity and social justice, environmental sustainability, transparency and co-determination and considers the perspectives of all stakeholders involved (suppliers, customers, workers, etc.). The resulting score is made visible on an ECG label on any product, making the product fully transparent concerning the environmental footprint, ethical approach, social impact and so on. At the microlevel, the success of investments would be measured in terms of ethical return, not only financial return.

What we both really appreciated about Felber’s framework of an ethical market was that companies respecting the common good would be given legal advantages and incentives from lower tax rates, lower tariffs to lower interest rates for bank loans. Free trade should be a reward for the most responsible companies and not for those who violate our most important values. Thus, the structure of incentives changes, making it more profitable to act in favor of the common good. What also stood out was Felber’s denial of free markets, which relies on the claim that conditions for their existence are not yet in place. In order for them to actually exist, information should be shared transparently and be made accessible to the sovereign citizens.

Inspired by the ethos of sharing, in the afternoon lecture, Friedrich Leitgeb (who also shares his income with the community he lives with) introduced several concepts related to organic food systems and civic food networks. One of them is Community Supported Agriculture, where consumers do not buy the products but finance a local farm as a whole. Payments are based on the production costs incurred by farmers and are paid in advance. This makes responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming shared. Moreover, personal economic situations are respected: when the harvest is bad, consumers do not blame the producer but accept that they will get fewer products.

The idea of food coops is to collectively purchase food directly from the producer, skipping the intermediate trade. The whole concept is based on transparency and trust. Why is trust so important? Participants pick the products on their own, wrap them and evaluate the products themselves.

The last day of lectures at AEMS was full of ideas, frameworks and concepts that propose a new order for a more sustainable, empathic and respectful interplay of humans and nature.

Written by: Flavia Nuta and Madeleine Alizadeh

Based on the lectures by: Christian Felber (“Economy for the Common Good”) and Friedrich Leitgeb (“Alternative Foodways: Community Supported Agriculture and Foodcoops”)