„We believe in economy as if people and the planet mattered“
This is basic information about Economy and Society Trust (EST). Please contact us for more information.
The Trust aims to support experts and interested citizens working on economic and social models, concepts and practical solutions promoting democracy, social justice, sustainability and corporate responsibility. The main mission of the Trust is to propose and implement alternatives to current mainstream policy approaches.
The fundamental aims of the Trust are:
a) to encourage critical discussion of the premises of neo-liberalism and neo-classical economics in academic and public spheres. Such premises have played a key role in shaping policies in the Czech Republic and elsewhere.
b) to contribute to the formation and development of critical thinking in Czech society
c) to analyse social and environmental consequences of current policies and their impact on democracy and on the rule of law.
d) to support the emergence, development, and practical operation of local, ethical, and democratic economic enterprises and systems.
e) to encourage and support the personal development of academics and others who are working to promote theoretical and practical approaches enhancing democracy, social justice, environmental sustainability, and the rule of law; to help increase their numbers, expertise and social status.
f) to encourage the development of economic measures and policies aimed at achieving a balance between human activities and the environment.
Background and rationale for founding the Trust
Public discourse and thinking on social and environmental issues in the Czech Republic has to a great extent been limited by a single world view. The boundaries of the possible are fixed by the dominant neo-liberal paradigm which is based on the conceptual structure of neo-classical economics. Discussions involving social, economic and environmental policies thus tend to be squeezed into the straitjacket of the “objective“ imperatives of globalized market economy. However, such supposedly realistic limits stem from a very specific set of assumptions relating to the functioning of the economy and of society in general and to the economic situation in the Czech Republic in particular.
The public discourse remains for the most part captive to neo-liberal assumptions regarding the degree and desirability of Czech integration within a global capitalist system, the meaning of the confusing term „economic globalization“, and the real risks and opportunities which these processes pose for our country. This dominant approach to thinking about economics and society is not value-free, though it is often presented as such. It is based on specific modes of thinking about equity, democratic accountability and environmental sustainability. There is no reason to persist in believing that the values of neo-liberalism are the only right and true values. In fact, we believe it is high time for these to be challenged. We are convinced that a broadening of the public discussion about social and economic policy to include non-orthodox and alternative views is not only in the interest of a more robust democracy, but will also help us advance toward the ideals of equity, the rule of law and environmental sustainability.
The power which the neo-liberal economic paradigm wields in the Czech Republic is enhanced by the relatively small circle of experts and organizations commenting government policies in the media, taking part in discussions and even helping to draft individual policies. They include so-called liberal–conservative think-tanks such as the Liberal Institute, the Citizens´ Institute and CEVRO, as well as a small group of experts from financial institutions (Patria Finance and others). The problem is not only that the media tend to turn predominantly to these sources, but also the fact that they do not really have many trustworthy alternatives to turn to. In other countries meanwhile, think-tanks (and „think-and-do-tanks“) have sprung up which offer alternative analyses and practical policy tools for coping with economic, social and environmental issues.
Some of these, such as the Irish Feasta and the British New economics foundation, have been a source of inspiration for us. However, to produce knowledge we need an institutional structure. So far, such structures have been available here only for the mainstream point of view. In such circumstances it is no wonder that this point of view dominates the public debate. We believe that democracy, equity, sustainability and the rule of law will all be served if we manage to build up a new institutional infrastructure which would produce knowledge alternative to the dominant neo-liberal paradigm. The Economy and Society Trust, we hope, will be a corner-stone for such an infrastructure.
Specific issues and goals
Democracy and the rule of law. We are afraid that the current economic system in our country is undermining democracy and the rule of law. Justice can be served only when an independent and accountable entity, the government, exists to ensure law observance and enforcement. However, in the last seven years the Czech Republic has opened itself up to the influence of big multinational corporations which have gradually been taking over the control of the country due to their superior economic power. The authority of legal and political institutions has thus been seriously jeopardized. At the same time, there has been very little discussion in the Czech Republic about the growing problems linked to the increase in corporate power on central, regional, and local levels. Neither the public nor the politicians are as yet informed about the possible impacts and risks of the increasing dependence of society as a whole on big private commercial entities. Our Trust will strive to open a discussion about these issues.
Social justice and equity. Besides democracy and the rule of law, current economic theory and practice also threaten social justice and equity. The simplistic neo-liberal view that a rising tide raises all boats, along with efforts by government to please transnational investors, has led to the gradual dismantling of social and employee securities and to a weakening of the welfare net. The groups most jeopardized by this process are the most vulnerable: the elderly, students, and young and single-parent families. This situation not only negatively impacts on people’s quality of life and perceived feelings of security, but leads directly to growing support for the extreme right and left. The current, ideologically biased emphasis on deregulation and privatization in government policy linked with a neglect bordering on repression of social forms of ownership and administration such as communal/municipal, government, not-for-profit and co-operative ownership and mutualization (based on the concept of stakeholder ownership and management) leads to feelings of powerlessness and to breakdown in community relationships. Our aim is to seek pragmatic and working alternatives to narrow neo-liberal economic models of society. These should be based on the principles of mutual solidarity, decentralization and self-help. Such alternatives would also include the support of small enterprises with local roots, which are often a mainstay of local economic continuity and employment.
The environment. We are further committed to seeking and promoting economic alternatives which would not be detrimental to the environment, and would like to help kick-start a discussion about what entails environmentally-friendly economic theory and practice. A key problem in this respect is the „growth imperative“, i.e. the need for the world economy to remain on an exponential-growth trajectory if it is to avoid collapse. Such growth is unsustainable on a finite planet and destructive of the environment. How do we escape this trap? The issue of economic growth is linked with the monetary system. According to some authors it is the growth imperative of the money supply which determines economic growth. At the same time, a rise in speculation has endangered the stability of economic systems and has drawn money from areas where it is needed. How do we cope with the money issue? Would a multi-currency system including local currencies help? We want to provide space for discussion on these crucial problems.
Economic theory. Economic theory was developed in days when the environment was not perceived as a problem. But today, economics is increasingly seen as the root of a host of environmental problems including the most intractable of them all, global warming. Should economic theory be changed? And if so, how? Where does theory end and ideology begin? The ideology of free trade is omnipresent in the rhetoric of our politicians and in legal documents on national and transnational levels (EU, WTO). To what extent do human and natural communities benefit from the free flow of goods, capital, possibly labour? To what extent do these arrangements enhance or paralyse our social and environmental legislation? We think that an unbiased and cultivated discussion about these sensitive issues is more than needed. We would like to provide a forum for those who wish to contribute to such a discussion both from the Czech Republic and from abroad.
Peak Oil. Warnings of an impending peak in oil production have been multiplying in recent years. We are told to brace ourselves for economic and social upheavals. Is this threat real and if so, which is the best way to face it? How do we avoid a breakdown in agriculture once the cheap oil is gone? Will the principles of so-called localization, (i.e. support of local cycles of production and consumption) help? Also this not-yet-opened discussion is worth kicking off.