I believe with all my conviction that humanity has the talent, the skills and the imagination to build a fairer, safer world for everyone.
I refuse to be subdued by “shocks.” I find myself energized by them. Our future is of our own creating.
Be it the entrepreneurs growing their businesses with their workers, parents determined to get their daughters and sons into college, farmers wanting to bequeath a bit more than they had to their grandchildren, or the activists and organizers taking often huge risks the world over, I see people everywhere striving for a better future.
But the problem is we’re not seeing a “better future” are we? We’re seeing “the same” – the grinding, back-breaking “same.” I think we’re all a bit frightened and frustrated, and so we reach out, sometimes angrily, for change.
We deserve to achieve
Our world deserves the kind of economy that helps us to achieve what we’re all striving for.
The tired economy we have today that permeates all our lives is actually undermining our enterprise and ingenuity. It acts as a handbrake on our great causes, ones I have dedicated myself to: the fight against poverty and the fight for human rights and gender equality.
Our economy is designed to pull a staggering amount of wealth away from society’s workers, innovators and ordinary people and into the hands of a tiny elite, aloof now and gorged at the top of the money tree.
It is no wonder that wages for the middle-class globally have long stagnated and – as Oxfam data shows – the richest 1% of the world’s population now own as much as the 99%.
An economy for the 1%
The same elites are thus able to write political rules to their favor. We published a report earlier this year showing how the most powerful US companies collectively received $130 in tax breaks for every $1 spent on lobbying .
This is truly an economy built for and by the one percent.
In this light, the 2016 “shocks” like Brexit and the US election were not aberrations, but rational outcomes. To my friends in the North: Nawakaribisha! Ahlan wasahlan! Welcome, to a world of outrage at inequality.
I feel your anger
I identify deeply with the anger of those of us who feel failed by their leaders for so long. I’m angry at those leaders for allowing this thirty-year neoliberal experiment out of the lab to become the basis of our economies, and then for defending the harm it has done to so many voters, consumers and citizens.
To my many Northern friends who failed to see the political capture of their institutions till now: we stand with you. Sisi tunasimama na ninyi! North and South, let us now link together our struggles, against the same unjust governance.
I can understand how people wiser than I are pessimistic about the turn our world is taking.
Finding the hope
However, I share a more optimistic view.
It might be because in Africa we are often conditioned to finding hope in gloom. It might be due to the fact that so many people around the world are willing to do something about the inequality crisis – including more outspoken world leaders and institutions, be it the IMF or the Vatican.
But mostly it’s because we have a reached a point at which the ideas, the policies and ultimately the vision for a better alternative economy have been formed. It could not have come sooner.
Let's build a 'Human Economy'
This is why for 2017 my big idea – my big hope – is that we now begin to build what I call the ‘human economy’.
It is fundamentally founded on bold but sensible economics – tried and tested economic prescriptions that harness the talents of people and make for fairer societies.
This is a palpable new direction for the world.
I will dedicate myself in 2017 to advancing the cause of this new model, to develop its thinking and push for its policies to be implemented.
Businesses must power this human economy. But it must be the right kinds of business, ones that create decent jobs and pay living wages, that restore the environment rather than just extract from it, and that treat women and girls with equal rights to everyone else. I am particularly eager to see models like employee-ownership grow. I am proud of Oxfam’s role in supporting co-operatives such as Amul, now India’s largest milk brand – which is jointly-owned by 3.6 million Indian dairy farmers.
Accountable, effective governments are the greatest tool we have for making our societies more equal. They have to play an active role in shaping our economies. Governments must defend and respect the voice of citizens and listen to ordinary people, not powerful elites with their money and their lobbyists.
And technology – at best a source for advancement of humankind – must guide our human economy to be fit for the future. Many are pessimistic about the negative impact technology may have on workers. For me better technology is never a bad thing – we will never survive without it – but the question is who owns it, and how it is used. Governments have a huge role to play in supporting research and development, and also in planning to ensure technology is deployed for the benefit of all.
In building this future, I’m excited about a new wave of Southern countries cooperating with one another, as well as megacities the world over – as equals – in a manner that many rich countries have proven spectacularly inept in doing.
We need all of you
But to truly make this all happen we will need a huge movement of people. We will especially depend on the creative energies of young people, in the South as well as the North.
I do not expect big bangs of progress – this will be a coming together of movements of engaged people in homes, in unions, in places of worship, in cooperatives, at the workplace and at the ballot box.
We must prepare too, for resistance; I have no doubt that we will come to a head with those elites who believe in the sanctity of their exclusive model.
Professionals, economists, entrepreneurs, thinkers, public servants, educationalists, academics, faith and moral leaders, poets and activists, whoever you are: I invite you all to get involved.
There is much to do.
This failed economy for the 1% should not have survived until now – I was stunned it did after the financial crash of 2008. Not again.
We have the ideas and the power of people on our side this time.
This 2017, let us begin to forge a better future, for all of us.
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