An intrigued audience gathered in Totnes recently to hear about what a post growth economy might look like, and whether it is actually already arriving. In a talk organised by Totnes REconomy Project and Schumacher College, Dr. Donnie Maclurcan of the Post Growth Institute spoke passionately about the phenomenal rise of not-for-profit enterprise and its role in a new global 'economics of enough'. According to Dr. Maclurcan not-for-profit enterprise will be at the heart of the global economy by 2050.
The Gift Economy
In putting his talk into context, Dr. Maclurcan suggested that all cultures have had long traditions of some form of sharing, collaboration and gift economy. However around 400 years ago there was a move away from the widespread and systematic acceptance of these traditions towards a focus on more private gain. In the classic capitalist economy, profit became an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, and competition became central to economies based on private gain. This in turn led to inequality, and to markets where perceived needs could be sold, as people aspired to social mobility.
The result of this global system focused on maximizing profit has been the extreme inequalities we see today, which are clearly unsustainable. And the consequence is the unconstrained promotion of apparently unlimited consumption, rather than seeing the economy as a route to meeting people’s genuine wellbeing needs and sustainably maintaining a good quality of life for all.
However, Dr. Maclurcan pointed out that we can increasingly see the gift economy returning through many thousands of initiatives using various forms of not-for-profit business models, and inspired by a new vision for the economy. Around the world, more and more people are helping to lay the foundations for a flourishing post-growth economy by choosing to set up their organisations - from major multinationals to community football clubs - as not-for-profit enterprises.
People are thinking creatively about ways they can generate their own income, whilst also having positive social benefit. For some this now means adopting an explicitly not-for-profit model: Setting up a business that pays salaries and reinvests profits into activities for the social good.
Sharing the benefits of a not-for-profit economy
Some forms of social enterprise benefit through the sharing of intellectual property which mitigates capital requirements in many cases. As a result, more types of information are freely available, such as open data. A big advantage to being not-for-profit is organisations’ ability to innovate collaboratively - they are not afraid to engage with one another, and this more collaborative approach can lead to increased improvements and efficiency. “For-profit” organisations are starting to realise that innovation happens better by opening up, and an increasing number are beginning to warm to this approach.
Dr. Maclurcan emphasised that the economy should not be so focused on competition; it should be focused on responding to and meeting society's needs. Ultimately, Dr Maclurcan’s core message was about the advantages of a not-for-profit economy which supports societal wellbeing rather than private gain.
Find out more
Dr. Maclurcan’s compelling vision is outlined in his forthcoming book How on Earth, co-authored with Jennifer Hinton, based on a growing body of evidence that the world is already shifting toward an ‘economics of enough’. Donnie Maclurcan's forthcoming book How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not for Profit World by 2050 is available for pre-order here.
Donnie Maclurcan PhD is co-founder and director of the Post Growth Institute. His other current roles are: Affiliate Professor of Social Science, Southern Oregon University; Distinguished Fellow, the Schumacher Institute, and an Associate at the Institute for Sustainable Futures. You can read more about Donnie here, and you can visit the Post Growth website to find out more.