Big society

On the economic overreach page we identified that economic ties reach beyond those of community that can supervise them.

On the behaviour and structure page we identified that structural solutions to economic overreach are vital and overlooked.

On the cooperatition page we identified that structural change needed to find new mechanisms for community. These should balance against competition: cooperatition.

Big society

Here we look at decision-making for big groups on a spectrum from:

• the top down by a few, such as politicians, who will hold a lot of power;

• the bottom up, where many players all share power and contribute their creativity and efforts.

Big society stands for promoting the bottom-up decision-making on the basis that it:

• harnesses more creativity, participation and resources; and

• allows for flexibility and detail in decision-making.

Big society in economics and ethics

Here we draw parallels between:

1) free-market versus command economies; and

2) their equivalents in marketplace ethics.

1. Big society and economics

In free-market economies competition between individual businesses and competition between consumers within the economy promote vibrancy, efficiency and success.

On the other hand, in command economies the individual is not rewarded for success and overall the economy suffers. This is supported by Cold War outcomes and, as an example, Yeltsin’s visit to a Houston supermarket in 1989 (also here). Forced conditions may offset this general trend but nonetheless we argue that this is only in the short term.

2. Big society and ethics

Now, instead of considering decisions relating to things in the economy (economics) we consider decisions relating to ethics in the economy.

Drawing a parallel from the comparison between command economies and free-market economies we argue that ‘command ethics’ (where ethical decisions in the economy are made by the few) will be outperformed by ‘free-market ethics’ (where the many are involved in ethical decisions in the economy): ethics managed by many will be better than ethics managed by the few.

Groups in the economy that may achieve ethical change

As identified on the cooperatition page, structurally our solutions must be capable of applying to all players at one level of the supply chain. This is so that no one player can undermine the efforts of other players to be ethical by making cost savings through unethical behaviour.

Different groups of actors may be identified which working as a group together are capable of modifying the behaviour of the entire supply chain. These can be seen to form a pyramid of sorts, according to the decision-making resources/ manpower at their disposal:

• the State (at the thin top of the pyramid since it has few resources etc);

• business (the middle layer of the pyramid – medium resources etc) – for a discussion of this area see ‘Article 81 EC and Public Policy’, Christopher Townley, Hart 2009;

• consumers/the man-on-the-street (the bottom layer of the pyramid – the greatest resources).

Crowdsourcing – the advantages of action by consumers and employees rather than the state

The progressive advantage of groups further down the ‘pyramid’ above (principally consumers and the man-on-the-street) are, as mentioned, that:

•  they harness the initiative and knowledge (including for example the specialised knowledge of employees and experts in any given field) of more actors;

• they also allow for greater speed, affordability, flexibility and detail in decision-making;

• including more actors in decision-making enhances their sense of inclusion; and

• therefore the capacity of the ethical decision-making system to find pathways to social and environmental sustainability is greater.

Crowdsourcing decisions therefore has significant advantages and:

• the economic version is already in play through modern capitalism;

• so if it is possible to find a mechanisms of engaging crowd-sourced ethical decision-making then the economics and ethics will be able to hold each other in balance.

At the same time it is worth noting that:

• crowdsourcing is not suitable in every situation since specialist knowledge may be required;

• delegation mechanisms are therefore sometimes appropriate and should not be excluded;

• nonetheless, the benefits of trusting the general population with decisions may be derived from  the following two examples:

• First, current world leaders and businesses presiding over colossal environmental degradation.

• Secondly, First World War leaders sending millions of troops into battle where many of those same troops, from opposing sides, exchanged greetings and played football in no man’s land on Christmas day 1914 (and to a lesser extent in 1915).

The best solution – use all actors

However, the best solution should capture the advantages of all possible actors: it should allow any community of actors to act together with others. For example Those communities of actors could include:

• those who create legislation and who regulate;

• businesses;

• the media;

• NGOs;

• geographical groupings of individuals;

• consumers of products in a certain market;

• employees in a certain market or more generally.

In this way:

• ethical regulation need not be the preserve (top-down) of the state (which causes alienation); and

• economics need not be predominantly the preserve (bottom-up) of people/businesses.

Thus everyone can be involved in all aspects of decision-making around them.

We explore how this might occur in the e-community page.


Additional notes

1. It is envisaged that this kind of crowd-sourcing in the sustainability sphere would be result in an increase in the general level of oversight in the economy (albeit from different (crowd-) sources). In a world with deepening sustainability concerns this seems an appropriate goal.

2. A welcome offshoot of achieving this kind of community mechanism would be the increased capacity of society to operate collectively rather than individually.

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