It’s not about the money, money, money…

One pop song doth not a zeitgeist make, of course, but Jessie J’s track insisting that “it ain’t about the cha-ching cha-ching “, but that she just wants to make the world dance, does chime with a sentiment that is popping up in a number of fields lately, especially if for  ‘dance’ we read ‘co-operate’.

I’ve just been reading Pete Wallis’ hopefully soon-to-be-published book, Into the Heart of Restorative Justice. This kind of justice is not so much about the money (that was stolen or demanded in fines) but about communication, rising mutual empathy, co-operation and eventually healing for both the criminal and the person they have harmed. Restorative justice brings them together in a safe and neutral environment, overseen by a facilitator, so that they can seek to understand the feelings that caused or were caused by the crime – so that they can, quite literally, find the humanity in each other. Wallis describes how effective this process is for helping all those affected by the crime to recover from it and move on, and the high rate of success it has had in preventing re-offending compared to the adversarial, crime-and-punishment model of traditional criminal justice.

In economics, too, co-operation is becoming as respectable as competition and, believe it or not,  money is losing its monopoly of the starring role. Economist Noreena Hertz says that the self-serving, profit-obsessed “Gucci Capitalism”, as she calls it, that has dominated in the last few decades, led inexorably to the global debt crisis, which in turn has paved the way for broad acceptance of what she terms “Co-op Capitalism.” This replaces competition and the bottom line with collaboration and the community. In other words, the world is beginning to prefer a harmonious economic ‘dance’ of give and take in which we all have a part, rather than businesses treating us as a mere source of  money, money, money.

Profit, so long the unquestioned raison d’etre of business, is now increasingly being joined by two more bottom lines; people and planet. Giving a damn about what your industry does to people and to the planet is no longer shrugged off by all businesses as wishy washy nonsense, but is increasingly being accepted as common sense… because we’ve all seen what can happen to the global economy when profit is the sole motivating factor. And with India and China – whose economies strongly feature co-operative business models – on the up and up, who are we to argue?

But the preference for co-operation over competition is not new; as Professor Hertz points out, “Recent work in behavioural economics has confirmed that benevolence is not alien to human nature. In evolutionary biology we see that learning from others – sharing information with others – is the key to human success. Whilst recent findings in neuroscience alert us to the fact that we are most contented when helping others.”

I’ve seen this in practice when, as a volunteer for Just Change, I run school workshops to stimulate discussions among young people about trade justice. In round one, the group is asked to improvise a role-play depicting conventional trade; ie the object of the exercise is for each group to make as much money as possible for themselves. In this scenario, there is always much rowdy bantering and bartering. At the end, the shoppers are poorer than when they started, though not as poor the tea growers who stay poor, while the shopkeepers always get richer. Everybody, except the shopkeepers of course, says they feel rotten at the end of the round.

In round two, they replay the roles, but this time it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has enough money for their needs, which is the principle on which Just Change operates. This time, unsurprisingly, all three groups say they feel satisfied with the amount of money they are left with at the end. But I have noticed something else; in round 2 the kids always treat each other with respect and kindness rather than aggression – and the general atmosphere is always much quieter and gentler.

Peter Wallis says that “normally well grounded, sober practitioners” are so moved by the transformation that takes place in restorative justice meetings that they “start using mystical, even religious language” to describe it. I felt the same after these Just Change workshops. I felt that I was witnessing a purer, more innocent and more real side of human nature emerging.

Stan Thakaekara, one of the founders of Just Change, asks “Is [a] profit-driven market economy inevitable? Are justice and human dignity no longer relevant? Are there no other choices and options?” Through the growth of the Just Change movement in India, in which tens of thousands of families trade on Just Change principles, he has helped to prove beyond doubt that there are other options.

And every time we do our grocery shopping, most of us have options too. Choosing fairly traded products, or buying from the Co-op (or a co-operatively run store like Waitrose or John Lewis) is more than paying lip service to a good cause. It is a profound political and economic act. It is a taking step in the dance of global economic co-operation, and helping to restore a bit of economic justice by recognising and responding to the humanity in those who produce what we buy. Ok, so sometimes it might cost a little more… but it’s not about the money, money, money. Ain’t about the (ha!) cha-ching cha-ching. Ain’t about the (yeah!) ba-bling ba-bling, Wanna make the world dance, Forget about the price tag.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Jessie J featuring B.oB, Price Tag – http://youtu.be/qMxX-QOV9tI
Restorative Justice – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice
Just Change – www.justchangeuk.org
Co-op Capitalism – http://www.uk.coop/coopcapitalism

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