No Wealth But Life: A New Economy is Coming Alive

by Amrita Bhohi

Posted: 28 Sep 2015

What would a society look like that was founded upon values of reverence for life, interconnectedness, co-operation and stewardship? What would it look like if people and planet mattered more than profit? These are perhaps some of the most important questions of our time, to which Pope Francis significantly dedicated his recent Encyclical, 'On Care For Our Common Home', joining many other voices in the call for a radical rehaul of our current eco-socio-economic system.

Less well recognised, is that some of the most exciting answers and alternatives already exist and are working, and can be found in an emerging theory and practice that is slowly moving to centre stage, loosely known as the 'new economics'. New economics is neither new, nor is it easily definable - but better understood as a spectrum of diverse strands of thinking, drawing from insights of past philosophers and economists (John Ruskin is often considered to be the grandfather of new economics, and Fritz Schumacher the father), as well as integrating the new fields of ecology, complexity science, psychology and even anthropology.

New economics is not about a single alternative, but about many possible alternatives united by a common set of values. These values, models and practices - democratisation of wealth and ownership, localism, protecting the commons, community sustainability and resilience - both recognise the challenges we face now, and enables us to mitigate and adapt to the inter-locking crises. At the heart of new economics lies the perennial wisdom of Ruskin, 'there is no wealth but life', offering a new approach built on an understanding of the complementary of ecological protection and human flourishing.

So what does this mean in practice? Much of the task of the new economy in practice is to re-localise, and to create deep sustainability and resilience by building real community wealth - the shared real wealth of healthy vital people, social relationships, and natural environments, that secures well-being through good time and bad. This is facilitated through a variety of different mediums, which I find helpful to summarise:

Alternative finance: local currencies, community banks, credit unions, non-monetary forms of wealth e.g. gift economy and time banks

New indicators of wealth: Gross National Happiness (GNH)

New models of ownership: co-operatives, Community Land Trusts, Community Supported Agriculture

The commons and collaborative commons: open sourcing/sharing economy, self-organised community stewardship of collective resources

Social enterprise: commercialisation for social value

Re-localisation: of food and energy systems, and supporting local businesses.

Over the past year, at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, we have been interested in the role of alternative economic models in building peace, by addressing the systemic roots to conflicts, and for its vital potential to shape social action in ways that promote long term change.

Inspired by the field of new economics, and with the intention to open up this conversation in the mainstream, we are excited to launch a new practical and fun five-part series of events this November 2015: No Wealth But Life: Is Sharing Resources the Key to Peace?'. With each event, we will explore an aspect of the new economy, have the chance to hear from a leading practitioner, as well as explore a case study and engage in a vibrant community of practice. Themes include: participatory economics, social enterprise, re-inventing organisations, alternative finance and the commons/co-operative movement. We invite you to get involved whatever your background - whether you are working in the field of community building, peace making, new economics, systems change or other!

About this author

Amrita's is Programme Co-ordinator for the Project Phoenix and New Economics for Peace program at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.

Dave Hunter - Posted: 8 Oct 2015

And for anyone interested in hearing from those who are putting into practice the alternatives Amrita talks about, there is the Bristol New Economy Summit happening on 12 and 13 October. Should be an inspirational two days:


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.