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Everyone’s economy

A book by multiple authors summarises the features of a new approach to production and profit

The social system as a whole, made up of men, women and machines, business and welfare organisations, aspirations for the future and problems to solve today. A system in which businesses and those who live and breathe them have a fundamental but not an absolute role, and in which profit and well-being go hand in hand, with all of the related constraints.

This goal, of a society that is both truly effective and efficient for all, is difficult but not impossible to achieve, as explained in Foundational Economy: The Infrastructure of Everyday Life, written by a group of researchers – economists, sociologists and others – who have set themselves the goal of outlining a possible future, starting with an analysis of the present.

The crux of their argument is the idea of the foundational economy as a basis for well-being and social cohesion. In other words, those things that we should take for granted every day: safe drinking water, unrationed electricity, advanced and accessible health services, free higher education, efficient infrastructure and public transport, care services for children and the elderly, food markets focused on the well-being of consumers and food producers. ‘Normal’ things that are in fact often anything but.

The book therefore begins by analysing the current scenario and stating how for many years European countries have followed a different path. The foundational economy is at the service of business. It intensifies competition and the focus on profit. The price we pay is growing inequality, the dissolution of social bonds and the rise of populist and nationalist sentiment.

As such, we need to turn our attention back to these ‘normal’ things, the components that make up the foundational economy. A tricky task which, as the authors point out, requires ‘a huge effort in terms of institutional imagination.’

The book has a simple and effective structure. First it describes how the foundational economy has evolved and how it should be. This is followed by an account of its ‘destruction’ and the essential features of its reconstruction and renewal process. The book finishes by underling four key premises: increased involvement of citizens, strengthening of the bond between society and business, reinventing the tax system, and creating ‘hybrid alliances’ through the development of intermediate institutions that are better able to interpret the needs of the general public.

Foundational Economy sets out something that is perhaps utopian for the most part, but also touches on things that we need to carefully consider and in which businesses (and those in power) certainly have a role to play. This is a book to be read carefully and, although you may not necessarily agree with the content, one which can also help the development of a positive business culture.

Foundational Economy: The Infrastructure of Everyday Life

The Foundational Economy Collective

Einaudi, 2019