All the issues for the world we want to live in exist within the wider system of the economy and the governments that try to manage it. Many of the potential changes raised imply the need to rethink current ways of working and economic policies. This chapter asks whether we need more engagement of governments in the management of investment and other economic activities. This question has been thrown into stark relief by the sudden and rapid switch of economic policies seen in many countries following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Could we build an economic system that brings out the best in people, not the worst? Some aspects of such a system are clear:

  • Recognition that the economy needs to support wider society and public good
  • Recognition of the social and environmental costs of economic actions
  • Community involvement in shaping local economies
  • Regulation and intervention to redress imbalances in power, information and opportunities
  • More emphasis on ‘real’ activities rather than finance transactions
  • Support for those who need help to change – at every level from the individual to nations.

As with the costs of dealing with climate change, opponents of such changes often stress that it is too hard, will take too long, would cost a trillion dollars, could not gain public support without much prior preparation. These arguments tended to hold sway, but have been shown to be illusory by the events of early 2020, when economic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic costing trillions of dollars could be enacted in a matter of weeks, given the political will.

When we outsource civic virtue to pay third party providers, we narrow the
scope of society and encourage people to withdraw from it.
Mark Carney, The Reith Lectures 2020, Lecture 1 – From Moral to Market Sentiments


Extended list of references