Categories
Introduction

Relief In My Bones.

This film project — as well as most of my political work in the past four years — was directly inspired by Donald Trump’s election in 2016. The vote stimulated my disbelief, my anxiety, worry, curiosity — and as a consequence, it drove me to find out what was really going on in the world.

This film project would probably not exist if Hillary Clinton had won.

I do not live in America, I am not a US citizen, and it may seem surprising to some that the 2016 Presidential election had such an impact on my life. There are two reasons for this. The less important one is that I have always had a connection to the USA, ever since I went to live there as a teenager for a year, back in the summer of 1989. I have friends in America, I constantly observe and evaluate the impact that America has on our lives all around the world, and I am fascinated and frightened by the effects its culture has on us all. So I felt personally affected by an election in a country to which I feel this connection.

But the more important reason is this: For better or worse, the US President sets the tone for politics around the globe. And Trump maybe more than most, in ways that were so much worse than most. Sometimes his effect was direct and unmitigated — when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, for example. Sometimes it was indirect but no less horrendous — when his example stimulated other despotic fascist thugs or just plain old idiots in other high places around the world, to behave the way he did.

But I had no idea how deep that influence ran inside me. Until Sunday last. On Saturday, we all learned that Biden had won the election. And on Sunday morning, it suddenly dawned on me: From now on, everything would be different. Not for everyone or everything in the world, don’t get me wrong! But definitely for me.

And so I cried that morning.

Because only then did I truly realise the enormity of the last four years in my own life alone — how all my little struggles and attempts and projects had happened and existed under the black veil of the knowledge that the most powerful man on earth is against everything I am fighting for. Every single thing. How many times was Trump the first thing on my mind when I woke up in the morning! We live in a truly globalised world, the terrifying problems that we have as a species are shared by all of us. And in that one world, he was setting the tone – his monstrous, callous, sociopathic, global tone.

None of the problems are solved now, of course. They are still exactly as terrifying and enormous as they were a week ago. But the simple knowledge that from now on, an actual human being — with empathy, with the capacity to listen, to reason, to relate to other human beings — will sit in the White House does change everything for me.

The path for Biden and his people until January 20th and afterwards is going to be steep and long and hard, and the Republicans are showing a type of lax disrespect for, or outright loathing of democracy and its processes that is chilling to the bone. But I believe that the rule of law and the election results will reign. And that alone is an incredible victory. Which shows how low the USA have sunk.

But it is a light. Not the light at the end of the tunnel. But a torch that will allow us to carry on — so we may find the end of the tunnel.

Categories
Behind the Scenes Gross Domestic Product Introduction

Katherine Trebeck: Corona Virus and Our Economy

A few days ago, I had the chance to catch up with Katherine – one of the two key protagonists in our film – about her thoughts regarding our current crisis, and what it means for changing our economies. This is a summary of the things she mentioned in our call.

Corona is revealing to the wider community that it’s miserably paid armies of people in precarious work, hitherto dismissed as ‘low skill’, who really keep our societies going: the couriers, the nurses, the supermarket checkout staff, the care workers, the refuse collectors. They are now the ones who keep the shop open, who keep our streets clean, who deliver books and groceries to our door to help us get through lockdown. They are the ones who ensure our wellbeing these days.

Whereas the highly paid top managers are nowhere to be seen in such a terrain.

This should make us take a renewed interest in rather boring seeming and less glamorous aspects of our economy: schools, hospitals, the food industry (the so-called ‘foundational economy’). We should hold on to a new recognition of the importance of local supply chains.

And also ask ourselves new questions: what is the Care Economy really worth to us? How much do we value the “gift economy” — i.e. all the services that are provided in everyday life without payment (child supervision among neighbours, care for the elderly in the family, help here and there in the neighbourhood), which keep so much of our lives as individuals and as communities together.

And we should note that despite its vital role, so much of this is not calculated anywhere in the GDP of a country.

That is why now is the time to think new thoughts and imagine a better economy post-corona than the one we had going into it. This phase of crisis enables us to ask questions and give answers that were unthinkable only a short while ago. For example, the current UK Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be thinking — or at least there were hints of this in some of his press conferences – in terms of the rich having to carry some of the burden of the mammoth income support programmes the government is having to bring in. We’ll see where that ends up, but it would have been hard to have imagined just a few weeks ago.

The risk is that this window of possibility will close again very quickly – that a “rollback” will come as people rush to return to how things were — forgetting or ignoring how grim that was for so many and for our planet. 

There is a similar diversity in the corporate world — the wheat separating from the chaff: some companies are now putting profits aside and trying to live up to their responsibilities. One example that has caught my eye is the supermarket chain Morrisons which has promised all its suppliers that from now on they will pay all deliveries immediately, to help them with their cash flow. This is significant because supermarkets are notorious for slow payment. Another example is whisky distilleries reconfiguring their operations to produce hand sanitizers — and making it available at cost or for free to front line workers. But there are others going in the opposite direction: Amazon has fired people who didn’t dare to come to work because of Corona, a chain of pubs forcing its staff to work when the government was advising against it.

This is exactly why we must do everything we can to start creating a better world now. The opportunity is to build back better as my former colleagues working in humanitarian situations would say. 

A lot of folks have been thinking long and hard for many years — decades even — about how our economy should be. Covid-19 may have just transformed the economic and political landscape so much that these ideas get the hearing they so urgently deserve.

Categories
Introduction WEGo in Practice Wellbeing Economies: Concept

The Vision of Wellbeing Economies.

A couple weeks ago, I had to summarise the “Wellbeing Economies vision”, for an internal document that we needed. I am neither a scholar nor a practitioner of wellbeing economics, but I still felt that the exercise of writing down what I had understood in our project to be valuable. Clearing one’s thoughts by putting them into writing is often quite helpful. Here are the results. Interestingly, the real experts in the matter — the team at the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) – also just happened to put out a document about the very same thing. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. But it may be fun for some to contrast and compare.

The concept of Wellbeing Economies (WE) does not attempt to explain the world through a central foundational economic model, nor does it recommend a particular path for achieving its goals. Rather, it is essentially a very pragmatic approach that begins not with a “system”, but with the end goal: an economy that serves people and the planet as a whole.

Five central concerns are to be achieved:

  • Dignity: Everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness
  • Nature: A restored and safe natural world for all life
  • Connection: A sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good
  • Fairness: Justice in all its dimensions at the heart of economic systems, and the gap between the richest and poorest greatly reduced
  • Participation: Citizens are actively engaged in their communities and locally rooted economies

One of the reasons why there is no central (mathematical) model for Wellbeing Economies is that advocates of the “Wellbeing Economy” idea embed economics deeply in the social sciences and reject a purely model-driven, number-oriented approach — which tries to give Economics a false semblance of a natural science.

Rather, they acknowledge that the very particular social science “economics” is about the question of how the earth’s resources are to be treated and allocated in the best possible way, in order to achieve the above goals. And while there is no question that mathematical skills are required for this, at the same time it is also necessary to recognize that philosophical questions about the meaning of life, normative ideas about law and justice, and an understanding of human irrationality, emotionality and spirituality are just as important. And they are all factors that have no or only a very limited place in the traditional data-driven approach to economics.

Even though this may not always be explicit, a foundation of WE seems to be that they start from a different view of humanity than capitalism of the neoliberal school does. The latter assumes that the central driver of all human activity is personal benefit maximization (greed), which must be put at the service of economic development. WE, on the contrary, see a number of different needs in people, which are expressed, above all, in our social and cooperative behaviour. In the current design of our economy which is essentially based on greed, these do not come into their own. It is now necessary to change this orientation, in order to give other central human qualities more justice in a our economic logic.

But in order for this to happen, it is fundamental to acknowledge that every economic system is man-made and can therefore be rebuilt or readjusted.

For this readjustment, the Wellbeing Economies see a particular need in redefining the key measures of success of our economic systems: politics and the economy are profoundly influenced by what is measured as success and recognized as desirable.

A core requirement is therefore to abandon the goal of continued economic growth in the sense of a steady increase in gross domestic product (GDP) and instead to define and measure the prosperity and progress of our world’s societies in new, different ways. It is acknowledged that GDP growth in the western world after the Second World War certainly helped increase prosperity and improve living standards. But the resulting obsession with steadily rising GDP is now seen as a central cause for our world becoming more and more unjust and dealing with nature in an completely destructive manner.

The fight against the apocalyptic climate crisis, which results from the unlimited growth of the carbon industry in the post-war economic growth logic, is a central motive for many to work towards Wellbeing Economies.

Politically, Wellbeing Economists are therefore trying to convince governments to use other indicators, better suited to the goals of the WE, rather than classic indicators such as GDP, unemployment figures or stock market prices, to help define and verify the true goals of policies made for people and nature. Examples of implementations are the Scottish National Performance Framework or the New Zealand Wellbeing Framework.

A second demand on policymakers is that ministries in governments abandon their silo roles and understand that they can only create a better society in the sense of Wellbeing if they collaborate and cooperate intensively with each other. Many central problems in economy and society are at the same time the task of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Economy, Finance and Environment. Egoism or struggles for budgets within a government are very counterproductive. In a complex interrelated world, problems need to be approach jointly from all perspectives and then joint solutions need to be developed.

Further demands of the WE are:

  • Decentralized economies: Instead of relying on huge central production facilities, whose products or services must then be shipped all over the world, local production close to people should be the goal. This applies just as much to energy production (local, sustainable, citizen-driven) as it does to sustainable production or provision of physical products (repair shops, 3D printers, recycling, etc.) and services.
  • Plurality of approaches: The WE recognise that the objectives of the WE can be achieved in different ways around the world and that these different ways enrich the concept.
  • Democracy and participation: There seems to be a general consensus that a WE can only be enforced if it involves the local people in its emergence and thereby makes them partners and co-shapers of the new economy.
  • Experimenting and learning from each other: Wellbeing economies can only develop if we learn from each other – because much of what is not yet understood in one place has already been tried out in another. And we must experiment – because we still have to invent some aspects of how these Wellbeing Economies may function.
  • Wellbeing as a social task, not as a private project: One concern of the pioneers of the Wellbeing Economy is that the term “Wellbeing” could be adopted by neoliberalism and made its own. This would turn the concept against itself: Wellbeing would no longer be a political project, but would be interpreted as a task for each individual within the existing system. Mindfulness approaches in start-up companies, yoga retreats and other concepts that try to strengthen the individual in the struggle within the existing destructive version of capitalism can easily be misinterpreted as a wellbeing approach, while they are the exact opposite.
Categories
Behind the Scenes Introduction

How an Advertising Man Became a Post-Growth Advocate.

I come from the dark side.

Between 1994 and 1999, I studied at two business schools. Then I worked in advertising and marketing from 1999 until 2016 — for 17 years. First I was an employee in a couple of advertising agencies. Then I got a doctorate in Marketing and helped build our own specialised agency, with a group of friends and colleagues. The one over-riding goal of everything was always:

Growth.

Advertisers may cite many reasons why they work with advertising and marketing agencies, but at the end of the day, they all want the same thing: to grow their market share, their profits, their sales.

And make no mistake: All advertising agencies ever want for themselves is growth, too. More clients. Bigger staff. More campaigns. More money.

Nobody who works in advertising ever questions any of this. There is no time. There is always the next deadline. The next flight to the meeting. The next crazy client request. The next ego emergency. Besides, why question the hand that feeds you? Growth pays for advertising. Then advertising begets more growth. Its a virtuously vicious circle.

I myself had no idea that something might be wrong. And when the news were reporting another year of GDP growth, it was the kind of good news I was happy to hear — I’d grown up in cold war “Economic Miracle” Germany, after all.

And yet, about a dozen years into my career it dawned on me that I could not, would not, should not spend the rest of my days trying to sell more of this shampoo or that floor cleaner. That that was simply not a worthwhile pursuit for a life well lived.

But I couldn’t leave right away, I had to stick it out for another four years, we had to keep growing our business so we could sell our company. I was fairly lucky with my contract and my role in the company — once the deal was done, I could quietly slip out the back door. The new owners hardly even realised that I was no longer there.

It was March 2016. I was in Munich.

I got an electric car — I thought that would be my contribution to protecting the climate. I went to Barcelona for a month, to spend time with friends. Then I moved back to Berlin. Brexit happened. It made me sad. I was living in a small apartment on Urbanstraße in Kreuzberg that I had rented from a friend. I was experimenting with a bit of freedom and with my underused creativity. In other news, the German right-wing party “AfD” was on the rise. I didn’t know what to do about it. Should I be more political? My father had been in politics.

I didn’t have a family of my own (I still don’t), I was alone. I made a hand-drawn animated short film. I reconnected with old friends. I thought about new professions I could take on. I felt a bit lonely. Autumn was coming. But overall, I was trusting that things would somehow be fine.

Then, Donald Trump got elected.

Many were shocked by the news, but ultimately this political earthquake did not leave much of an impact in the daily lives of many people in most European countries. Modern capitalism keeps us simply too busy to care: A presentation is due for the boss. There is the problems with the co-worker at the office. The neighbour just bought a new large SUV. Should we get one, too? One of the children is ill. Let’s just pray that the insurance will cover it. Also, the older one needs a new phone. The car has to go to the garage. A big SUV might feel safer, right? Oh my god, did we remember to book the flights for the holidays? Plus, can we even afford to put Ma in that retirement home? Oh man, health insurance rates went up again.

And so on. And then, at the dinner table, you might find a short moment, you’re looking at one another, saying: “Oh man, Trump is the American President now, that’s something else, isn’t it?” You shake your heads in disbelief, and then it’s back to the daily race.

Well, me … I had none of that.
I was by myself, no one needed me.
I was running nowhere.
No one waited for me.
I had no place to go, no job to do.
Instead, I was looking at the wall in that small apartment — and Trump was always there.

Soon I realised: This wasn’t about a complete catastrophe of a US President. It was about a very different question: What is going on in this world that the United States of America elect someone as horrific as him as “the leader of the free world”.

Where and when had things gone so badly wrong? What had I missed?

2017 became my fact-finding year. I read books and newspapers. I spoke with people. I launched a blog and wrote regularly about my experiences and questions. Soon, the climate crisis rose to the top of my agenda: jointly with my friend Kai Schächtele, I developed a show format called vollehalle — it talks about the climate emergency and the role of us all in it, in a constructive and inspiring manner. We also interviewed Tim Jackson for it. A giant among those who are imagining a better economy. Meeting Tim was my first brush with a new way of thinking about the system I had taken for granted.

And another thing happened to me in 2017: inspired by a small article in the German newspaper “taz”, I discovered the “Netzwerk Plurale Ökonomik” — the German arm of the “Rethinking Economics” student movement. Thanks in part to our meeting with Tim Jackson, and also to David Graeber’s book “Debt” and Wolfgang Streeck’s “Gekaufte Zeit” (English title: “Buying Time“), it was dawning on me that the way we are running and thinking about our economies is probably a big part of the problem. But so far, I hadn’t met anybody who had useful answers. So, I applied to attend the Netzwerk’s first Summer Academy, which took place at the beginning of August 2017 in the small village Neudietendorf outside Erfurt. And I got accepted.

That week in August of 2017 changed my life.

Never before had I seen 90 people — most of them millennial students — so heavily engaged in deep, thoughtful, intellectually curious and generous debate about the major issues of our time. They weren’t shouting their written-in-stone political beliefs or adherence to some political party at one another. Instead, these (mostly) twenty-somethings were soft-spoken and genuinely curious about each other’s thoughts, about how to advance their own thinking, in order to get to new solutions. And they were going at it non-stop, from 8 am at the breakfast table until 2 am at night, as they were having their nightcap beers in the courtyard.

It dawned on me: If there is hope for our world, it’s with critical economics thinkers like these students — with their radically open eyes and their real questions and their genuine curiosity.

And there was something else that I realised: Nobody knows this. Nobody outside these circles knows that the ideas that will solve many of our most dire problems may already exist. And they lie in truly rethinking our economy. In other words, nobody outside these circles seemed to realise that economics was the most important and most exciting subject of our time, if tackled in the right way. I understood that we needed to vehemently start telling these stories and bring this thinking to a wider world. The stories that I was hearing here, the thinking that was going on here, it needed to be shouted off rooftops!

And that was just the informal part of the week.

The biggest part of the official agenda were the workshops. The one I had signed up for was called “Prosperity Economics”, led by Katherine Trebeck and Himanshu Shekhar. At the time, Katherine was a researcher at Oxfam in Scotland. She explained to us how GDP was at best an imperfect measure of progress and how an alternative take on “prosperity” would look at the real issues. She also talked about the challenges of measuring prosperity holistically, in a way that deals with how people’s lives — and the lives of all other living beings on this earth, too! — are really going.

19-11-03_katherine_costarica

And then she told us about a plan she had, jointly with an Italian professor named Lorenzo Fioramonti who was teaching Political Economics in South Africa. They wanted to build a “counter-G7”: A new summit that would bring countries together who tell the world: “Enough is enough, let’s show the world how to think differently about the economy — in a way that can actually save mankind and this planet.”

They wanted to call it the “WE7”: the Wellbeing Economies 7.

What a story!

Six months later, I got a call from Gustav Theile. He’d been one of the Summer Academy organisers, now he was Katherine’s intern in Glasgow. He told me two things: One, the summit was happening! With Scotland, Costa Rica and Slovenia as the first members, getting together in Slovenia — there, they would jointly sign the Ljubiljana Declaration. And two, Lorenzo had left the project: He was returning to his native Italy, in order to run for office in the Italian election — he wanted to bring his post-GDP thinking into a new Italian Government.

I could not contain my excitement. So I turned to my friend Nick Scholey — a media creation one-man powerhouse, musician, camera operator, editor, all around creative force — and said, “Man, we gotta start making a documentary about this. Let’s go to Scotland and to Rome, let’s start filming these people. What they are doing is too important for the world to miss.”

Neither of us had ever made a documentary. But that didn’t matter. We were now on a mission. And we got support from my friend Kim Münster, a film producer.

Today, one and a half years later, we have hours and hours of footage. Of Lorenzo’s political battles in that strange Five-Star-Lega government, which eventually fell apart — he’s now actually become the Minister for Education, in the brand new Italian Government. And of Katherine travelling around the world, helping save the Wellbeing Economies government project, after the summit in Ljubiljana got cancelled at the last minute. But Katherine and the amazing folks inside the Scottish Government kept at it. And so, a few weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, gave a TED Talk about how Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand had joined forces as the Wellbeing Economy Governments!

I am a very different person from the one I was in early 2016. I really hope that I will look back one day and say:

I made my way from the dark side to the light. And it wasn’t too late.

=======

This text was originally published a few weeks ago as a guest-piece on the Degrowth.info blog. We are cross-posting it here because it tells the background story of this film project.

 

Categories
Gross Domestic Product Introduction WEGo in Practice Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Replacing GDP with “Girls on Bikes”.

Since early 2018, we have spent a lot of time with our protagonist Katherine Trebeck. In the summer of last year, we also traveled to Costa Rica together, to film her while she was speaking at a conference about sustainable fashion, and while she met the Costa Rican First Lady.

On that trip, she told us about an idea that I forgot about later, and that I was again reminded of recently. It is a beautiful thought that very convincingly illustrates how much we must change our notion of what progress actually means.

You have a very tough challenge to overcome when you try to move away from an economy that is measured by the “growth” it produces, in terms of financially measurable output. Or, in other words, by how much it increases GDP every year. GDP is such an established measurement: Everyone has heard of it, it seems so incredibly familiar (even though most people have no idea what it really is), and that’s why people have a really hard time letting go of it.

Now, how does the growth of GDP tell us that a society is improving?

Well, it measures how much a society makes every year, in terms of how much money is being spent on things in that society. And then it assumes that we are doing better if more things are made and sold next year. And so on. Forever. More stuff is better. It’s as simple as that.

We are now finding out that more is not better. Up to a certain point, yes. But after that, more just hurts more: It hurts nature. It hurts equality in society. It hurts the psychological health in a population. It hurts the climate. Etc.

In the western world, and after we’d broken everything in World War II (“thanks” to the nation I come from, Germany), looking at the GDP was probably a good idea, for a while. We could simply count how much we are making and then assume that we’re doing better if we are producing more next year. It meant more people in jobs, more people could afford things, life was getting better. But those days are gone. We are no longer better off if the GDP keeps growing, we’re actually worse off, nowadays. And we’re clearly ruining the planet this way.

So we speak a lot about what might be a better measure. There’s not going to be a single thing that replaces GDP, of course. But if you ask Katherine which single measure she would pick if she could use only one, to analyse if a society is actually doing better year after year, she’ll say this:

Why not get countries to measure the number of girls who bicycle to school?

Ok, this may seem very strange at first glance. What? Rather than looking at how much economic output our country is producing, let’s count girls on bikes?

Think about it. It makes a heap of sense:

If more and more girls ride a bike to school, it means it’s safer and safer to cycle in traffic.

If more and more girls ride bikes to school, it means that bikes are increasinly accepted as a means of transport. And it means less parents’ cars — who are now doing the “parent taxi” thing (a big issue here in Germany) — are polluting the air and creating dangerous traffic jams outside schools.

If more and more girls cycle to school, it means that more and more girls are actually going to school and getting an education, period. That’s an important achievement in many countries.

If more girls are cycling to school, it means that they’ll get used to this mode of transport, it will translate to better health for them in the future, and to less pollution in society in the future.

If more girls go to school on bikes, it means that they are not afraid to be attacked by predators who do them harm.

If more and more girls ride bikes to school, more and more boys will do that, too.

If more and more girls cycle to school, it means that more of them are empowered and unafraid.

I think I agree with Katherine: This is an incredibly convincing measure of progress. And one that deserves serious consideration as a replacement for GDP. And I am not joking one bit.

Free photo by @luizmedeirosph.

Categories
Gross Domestic Product Introduction

On Economic Growth As A Concept.

I just read the text “Economic growth: a short history of a controversial idea” by Gareth Dale — and thought that some of its points merit mentioning here, as they relate to the core issue of our film project: the unhealthy obsession of most governments with GDP Growth, and how to end it.

Dale’s text is all about where this idea came from, originally.

The first key point he is making is rejecting Elias Canetti’s “will to grow”, which posits that the desire to (economically) “grow” — in other words, to accumulate “more” — is a human quality that sits inside our DNA. From wanting your child to grow, to wanting your power to grow, to wanting your riches to grow, to wanting your farm to grow, this is just how we are made, we always want more.

But Dale disagrees and says that Canetti is throwing things together that don’t belong together:

Canetti’s ‘will to grow’ doesn’t withstand scrutiny. The diverse behaviours he describes can’t be reduced to a single logic. The ‘will’ behind creating babies is quite unlike the will to accumulate acreage or gold. And the latter is relatively recent. For much of the human story, societies were nomadic or semi-nomadic, and organised in immediate-return systems. Stashes of food were set aside to tide the group over for days or weeks, but long-term storage was impractical. The accumulation of possessions would hamper mobility. The measures that such societies used to reduce the risks of scarcity centred not on accumulating stores of goods but on knowledge of the environment, and interpersonal relationships (borrowing, sharing, and so on).

The next crucial point he is making is about data. It was only possible for humans to “want more” once they were able to properly count what they had. In other words, the development of statistical tools plays a key role for instilling this idea that we could “have more tomorrow” than we have today. This links directly to the discussion we experienced at the OECD Forum in South Korea, about new measurements and their political implications. Dale writes:

The same centuries experienced a revolution in statistics. In the England of 1600, the growth paradigm could scarcely have existed. No one knew the nation’s income, or even its territory or population. By 1700 all these had been calculated, at least in some rough measure, and as new data arrived England’s ‘material progress’ could be charted. Simultaneously, the usage of ‘growth’ had extended from the natural and concrete toward abstract phenomena: the growth of England’s colonies in Virginia and Barbados, the ‘growth of trade,’ and suchlike.

And as the advancement of science and the development of colonialism went hand in hand, the colonialists had a whole host of new quantitative questions to answer:

How profitable is this tract of land, and its denizens? How can they be made more profitable? Answering such questions was enabled by modern accounting techniques, with their sharper definition of such abstractions as profit and capital.

In other word, “growth of the economy” needed a lot of inventions before it could even be thought. And the idea was heavily based on thinking that originated from the development of colonialism. In the new colonies, it seemed even more important than anywhere else to count and “grow” the new properties that were being accumulated.

And what was the result of all that? A very simple story about how people evolved from barbarism to civilisation. Barbarism was the lifestyles of the people that colonialists found wherever their greed took them, civilisation was the way of living and counting and robbing and thinking in property terms that the colonialists brought. Since the invading nations were the “more advanced ones”, that gave them “the right” to control and harrass the others. And economic growth was always part of the story:

Through its marriage to progress and development, in the belief that social advance requires a steady upward ratchet in national income, growth gained its ideological heft.

And this takes us into the twentieth century. The idea of economic growth turned into a global competition and race, for power, influence and promises to the electorate. And in the fight between the political systems of the Cold War, it became the tool for everything:

Growth was firmly established everywhere: in the state-capitalist economies of the ‘Second World,’ the market economies of the West, and the postcolonial world too. It became part of the economic-cultural furniture, and played a decisive part in binding ‘civil society’ into capitalist hegemonic structures — with social democratic parties and trade unions crucial binding agents. It came to be seen as the key metric of national progress and as a magic wand to achieve all sorts of goals: to abolish the danger of returning to depression, to sweeten class antagonisms, to reduce the gap between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries, to carve a path to international recognition, and so on.

And then to me, the most interesting conclusion can be found in the penultimate paragraph:

Growth, although the result of social relations among people, assumes the veneer of objective necessity. The growth paradigm elides the exploitative process of accumulation, portraying it instead as a process in the general interest.

It’s actually an incredible sleight of hand: The accumulation of wealth is redefined as the primary public interest. We are lead to believe that as long as a massive accumulation of capital happens, somehow everyone will be better off. Even though it’s overwhelmingly a narrow group of people benefiting from this type of accumulation. Because ever since the TINA years, so much taxation has been dismantled, bit by bit.

Not too long ago, this whole idea was also referred to as the “Trickle-Down-Effect” — an effect that doesn’t actually work in the real world. Just because the rich get richer doesn’t mean the rest are better off. Quite the contrary. Unless we rethink the way we distribute access to capital and resources: Wellbeing Economies.

Categories
Behind the Scenes Introduction On the Road

Reviewing 2018: An Incredible Ride.

The year is drawing to a close — here’s a look back on what has happened in our project so far. 2018 has been an incredible ride for us, in many respects.

It all started back in February, when we found out that two things were going to happen. One, a group of government representatives from Scotland, Costa Rica and Slovenia were going to gather in Ljubiljana in March, to say openly to the world that they want to pursue a different type of politics in economics, an approach that respects the needs of people and planet. At the same time, we heard that one of the people working on making this government summit happen, Lorenzo Fioramonti (a fierce critic of the GDP and of the way most economic policies are currently being designed), was going to leave academia and join the world of Italian politics, and run for office with the 5 Star Movement. Since the 5 Stars were the strongest contender in the Italian election, this was very interesting news — there was the potential that a man who had written books about how bad a measure the GDP is could become a minister in a new Italian Government!

So we decided that we just had to start filming this story, no matter what — a story about people who want to move our world away from its endless “growth obsession”. So without funding (there was no time to wait for funding), and with only a vague concept of what kind of a story we wanted to tell, we went on our first trip: In the middle of February, we drove up to Scotland, to meet with Katherine Trebeck and other people at Oxfam, to find out what that government summit was going to be about. Katherine had worked on this thing from within the Scottish Oxfam offices, where she’d been a researcher.

(Also, Nick still had to move most of his stuff from a storage in Glasgow to Berlin, so we did it all in one go, with a hired truck. That’s a fossil fuel burning vehicle, of course, and since we want to be as climate-friendly as we can, we compensated the CO2 emissions on that trip. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any other way to move house these days than using a truck that burns Diesel.)

A few days after returning from this one, we were already off on our second trip — down to Italy. And this time we went fully electric. We met with Lorenzo in Brescia where he had to give a campaign talk, and then we drove him down to Rome. We had been invited to stay at his parents’ place outside Rome, to be able to follow Lorenzo around during this last week of campaigning before the election on March 4th. Lorenzo’s family and his home were still in South Africa where he had been living for many years. As he was launching his career in Italian politics, he turned his parents’ house — which has lots of space — into his new temp home as well.

The week we spent together in Rome was remarkable. We were traveling around the city non stop, went on lots of campaign appointments, saw plenty behind the scenes stuff in the “5 Star Campaign”, we went to their secret campaign headquarters in the center of Rome, and felt the vibe behind and on the stage at the big campaign rallies and events. It felt a little bit like being inside a real-world “House of Cards”.

In early May, it had turned out that the summit in Slovenia was not going to take place — so we had to go back to Glasgow and speak with the team there again — about what was going to happen next. Timing was tight, and we had to somehow fit the trip in. We couldn’t drive — it takes four days driving time alone to go up there and back — so we flew this time around. But we compensated for our CO2 emissions with Atmosfair — like we do with every flight which we cannot avoid.

It wasn’t until later in April that we went traveling again — but that doesn’t mean we sat idly in the meantime. We produced a small comedy show in Berlin, I moved house, and more importantly, we had to work hard on defining our story.

In theory, a documentary filmmaker only starts rolling his camera after s/he has thoroughly investigated and written down what the story is meant to be, exactly, that s/he wants to tell in the film. Based on this description, you go out into the world, and try to collect your story — or the version of it that reality will present you with. It’s obvious that life will never turn out the way you intend it in your head. But it’s still incredibly helpful to have that idea — otherwise you don’t know what you are shooting for.

It didn’t quite happen that way in our case. Instead, we had already started rolling the cameras, but we only knew that we wanted to follow these two people — Katherine and Lorenzo — to document what they were trying to do, to help us move to a post-GDP world. But what does that mean in terms of the story that we’re telling? How do we structure it, how do we intend to keep viewers engaged in a topic that may seem very technical to many people. We had lots and lots of conversations with lots and lots of people, and particularly with my friend Kim Münster, an experienced film director and producer, who agreed to produce our film and help me — a novice to the whole process — structure the whole thing.

To structure it meant primarily to write a treatment. Which is essentially the screenplay to the documentary — a description of the intention I have as a filmmaker for the story I want to tell. It was a hard process to do this, and the treatment got rewritten a number of times, and it changed around a lot. But I learned an awful lot about what it means to be a documentary filmmaker, and how I need to think, in order to make a film that anybody will want to see.

In April, we returned to Rome for our second trip there. On the way down, we stopped over in Venice, to meet with and interview Petra Reski. She’s a German writer, but she has been living in Italy (closely following the “5 Star Movement”) for decades now, and she gave us a very helpful perspective on what this movement means for Italy. Then we journeyed on to Rome. Lorenzo had won his seat in the Italian election, and we spent another 5-day work week with him around town — while the party was trying to form the new Italian government. The negotiations with the “League” had failed, and now the 5 Stars were trying to figure out how they could potentially form a government with the “Partito Democratico”. And Lorenzo was trying to prepare for his new role, potentially as the Minister for Industrial Development in the new government.

On May 7th, we had the chance to meet up with Tim Jackson in Berlin. He’s a very well-known professor, researcher, author and speaker, working on the post-growth agenda. I’d met him once before, in 2017, as we were preparing our climate change show “vollehalle”. It was fun to meet him again in Berlin. He gave a speech in the very impressive hall of the Evangelische Akademie Berlin — check out the floor lights in the pictures below — and we were allowed to film that speech.

And then at the end of May, we returned to Scotland. This time with the Tesla, again getting on the Le Shuttle train under the Channel. I really love that train! The trip first took us to Tim Jackson’s university in Surrey, where we had the chance to do a sit-down with him, and interview him for about an hour.

Then we journeyed on to Glasgow and then Edinburgh, for a very particular reason: on May 23rd, the Task Force meeting for the Wellbeing Economy Governments — the group that was originally supposed to meet officially in Slovenia in March — was happening at a hotel in Edinburgh. The idea was to plan the next potential official public meeting, which could now be in South Korea at an OECD conference, at the end of November. So there were representatives from the Scottish, Costa Rican and Slovenian governments, plus people from Oxfam and a couple of universities, getting together to hash out how they could develop their group until that conference. And we were in the room, with the cameras rolling! It was very exciting!

In Edinburgh, Katherine also told us that she was going to go to Costa Rica herself, to speak at a conference, and to (potentially) meet the Costa Rican president, and tell him about this project, and get him excited about it. It was clear — we had to go, too! So we booked two seats on the same flight that she was going to be on (again, we compensated for our CO2 emissions with Atmosfair), to travel with her to Costa Rica, only two weeks later!

But just before that, I had the hunch that I had to go back down to Italy. The forming of the government there had become this never-ending thriller — negotiations with the PD had been cancelled only days after our last trip there, because of a very controversial TV appearance of the former leader of the PD, and so the 5 Stars turned back around to negotiate once again with the right-wing “Lega”. When they finally tried to propose a government together, the Italian President Mattarella refused to sign them into office, for fear of a European backlash against the new minister of economics, a Euro critic. It was apparently all coming to a blow, with the 5 Stars organising a rally to demonstrate against the President, when at the last minute a compromise was found, and the goverment was sworn in. And so the demonstration against the President turned into one to celebrate the first time the 5 Stars were in an Italian Government. Since I only had two days, there was no way to drive down again, so I went on yet another flight, and spent two days in Rome, and got a few great shots and impressions of the vibe both within the 5 Stars, and also from Lorenzo’s point of view, who — at that stage — seemed nowhere near becoming part of the new government, despite the fact that he had been quite close to Luigi di Maio and the party leadership during the election campaign.

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And then, only three days later, we went to Costa Rica. It was a great experience — we met incredibly interesting people, the conference called Omina (about sustainable fashion) was inspiring, and even though Katherine did not manage to meet the President (he had to cancel his appearance at the conference), she did meet the First Lady. And we were in the room with them! We returned to Berlin on June 11th, after being away only six days — it had felt much longer because it had been so intense.

In the meantime, working on the proposals and trying to get funding kept right on going — unsuccessfully, however. The most irritating thing in this whole funding process is that with some German film funding institutions, you cannot get money if you apply after you have started filming. There is apparently a bit of wiggle room, but not enough for us, so a couple of sources of money for our film were already dry before we even started applying … There seem to be laws about public financing of films that make it so, but I don’t really understand it. And it is quite irritating that we are blocked from funding simply because we realised early that we simply had to start capturing this story. Otherwise, there would be no story.

The next trip took us back to Rome, we left Berlin on July 1st. This time, we wanted to be there when Lorenzo brought his whole family — his wife and the two kids — back from South Africa. We documented their arrival at Fiumicino Airport. But even more importantly, we had the chance to witness Lorenzo arriving at his new office — he eventually did end up in the government, he had been named Vice Minister in the Ministry of Education and Research (“MIUR”), and we were there to see his first days on the new job.

 

In mid August, we returned to Scotland once again — this time because Katherine was coming back from her summer holidays, and we wanted to be present (and film) as she was getting an update about the state of things with the Wellbeing Economy Governments from the Scottish government team.

The many remarkable and incredibly comfortable stays in Edinburgh for our film are only possible, by the way, thanks to Nick’s extremely generous and hospitable parents Pat and Howard Scholey — a massive thank-you to them!

Which takes us straight to our last Italian journey so far for the film, in early September — and this one was by far the most tiring because we went to so many different places. Our first stop was Geneva where we interviewed Alvaro Cedeno (he’s in the pictures from the Costa Rica trip — but he lives and works in Geneva). From there, we traveled to Milan, where we met up briefly with Katherine (!) who happened to be there that night, and then we shot an interview and other material with a start-up company that we may include in our film.

From there, we traveled on to Genua where the motorway bridge had crumbled a few weeks earlier, and we needed to get shots of that. And from there, we traveled on to Rome, where we spent some more time with Lorenzo — we drove him to a couple of TV studios, for example, where he was giving interviews. And finally, we went with him back up north, to Tuscany, where he had meetings in Pisa and Lucca. It was a super intense trip, but again well worth it.

In late September and early October, we started a little sub-project within our film project — this blog right here, and the social media accounts that we’re using, to publish behind-the-scenes stuff around making this film. We kicked it off by shooting, editing and posting our “Welcome Video”.

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In the meantime, we had also learned that further hopes for external financing from film funds had fallen through. But I managed to open up another source of finances, so even though we don’t have any film fund supporting us right now, we can still continue to make the film. And we keep applying to other funds — more specifically now to a couple of US funds that also support international films.

Finally, in the middle of November, our most intense traveling and shooting period began. Within a very short time frame, we first went on our latest road trip back up to Scotland, met with Lorenzo in Berlin and then traveled to South Korea.

On the trip to Scotland, we were passsing through London once more where we did our interview with Rowan. Then we journeyed on, to interview my friend Basile in Northampton, and then on to Scotland again, where we met with the Scottish Government team again, and with Katherine.

Katherine’s husband Mark also agreed to be interviewed by us — which was really nice. And we joined one of his Dramble Tours: he himself does these guided tours of Glasgow that include stops in six carefully selected pubs where you get to sample six different carefully selected Scotch whiskys. We had fun. (I was just a bit cold, to tell the honest truth, my jacket wasn’t warm enough …)

Only two days after our return, Lorenzo came to Berlin! Together with his assistant Nicoletta they came for a few meetings. That made life easy for us — no need to travel to Italy to film our Italian protagonist!

And finally, our last trip this year: to South Korea. The Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative (“WEGo”, here is the website) was going to be launched at a big OECD conference on measurement and statistics there, so the Scottish Government team, teams from other governments, and Katherine were going to be there. And Lorenzo was coming as well. So we had to go, too, and see what it was going to be like, to see that initiative see the light of day. Just like in South Korea, we spent a good deal of time with Katherine, and even managed to fit in a last day of “light tourism” in the old part of Incheon — the city where the whole thing was taking place.

(I already posted a fairly extensive blog post about what we learned at the conference.)

So … that was the summary of what we’ve been up to this year, trying to make this film. (Not to mention other projects that we have worked on.) This does not include, of course, a whole bunch of little things that we were working on here at the office: editing work for funding applications, the countless revisions and reworkings of our various (German and English) treatments and other documents.

2019 will probably begin for the film in the second half of January, with yet another trip to Scotland. We hope to get done with the main bulk of shooting by March — in other words, more or less exactly a year after we started. And after that, we need to sit down and start to work out how to actually make this film — sift through all the material, edit it, and do all the prost production. There is a lot of work ahead of us, and it will be, without a doubt, another very interesting year.

We’ll hope to post another video, about the trip to South Korea, towards the end of this week — so stay tuned! And other than that, have a Merry Christmas Season, and all the best for 2019!

Categories
Introduction On the Road

Live from South Korea.

While we’re filming and interviewing people here at the “6th OECD Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy“, we’ll be more active on our social media platforms: Nick will have an eye on our Instagram account, and Martin will take care of Twitter. Find us there if you want to keep up with what’s happening here.

We also have a few behind-the-scenes films in preparation, from our previous trip to Scotland and England — but with all the traveling we simply haven’t had the time to edit them. But we hope to get a couple more videos out in December, before Christmas.

Categories
Introduction Sustainability Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Welcome Video.

A short introductory film to our project.

Categories
Introduction On the Road Sustainability

A film-making journey: sustainable.

Earlier this year, we’ve begun working on this documentary film. From the start, the project has required a lot of travelling. We’re going to Rome frequently, and we’re additionally shooting all around Italy. We’re filming in Scotland quite a bit, and also in a whole bunch of places between the two — different parts of Germany, England, Switzerland. Finally, we’ve been to Costa Rica for a few days and shot material at a sustainable fashion conference, and towards the end of this year we’ll even have the chance to go to South Korea to film at an OECD conference there.

A key concern of the protagonists that we’re filming — and our own, too — is climate change. That is why we are trying to make the shooting of this film as light on the environment as we can.

For our travels this means: The lion’s share of our trips around Europe are done by electric car, which we charge at stations that run on renewable energy. But that’s not always easy as flights are so ridiculously cheap. And driving from Berlin to Rome or from Berlin to Scotland takes two days in both cases — that is quite along haul. So there is always the temptation to fly. And we have flown — in cases when we would only be able to spend a couple of days on location. Going on a trip, driving two days both ways, in order to spend only two days in a place just makes no sense.

But we know that flight prices do not reflect the actual cost of these flights — they are heavily subsidised, so other forms of transport don’t stand a chance in comparison. Yet on an individual level, flying is the most energy-heavy form of travel. Anyone concerned about climate change should seriously think about the flying they do. So climatically speaking, flights should be much more expensive than they are. But they’re not.

So when we do have to fly we always compensate our flights’ CO2 emissions with Atmosfair. Atmosfair is a German non-profit that builds infrastructure around the world to help avoid CO2 emissions, and by paying them for compensation, we can help finance CO2-reducing infrastructur that corresponds with the CO2 that was emitted from our flights.

Finally, during the course of the project, I (Martin) have already become a vegetarian, and Nick has seriously cut down on his meat consumption.

We will also use this blog to report on our experiences with sustainable film making.