Opinion

John Bird: To save the world, we’ll need to transform trade

I’m looking forward to the creation of a social Amazon which will give the public the consumer hit they want

was all ready to do a podcast on ‘How to Change the World’, but it has been delayed until the autumn. There are already so many books, manifestos, radio and TV programmes that have been made on this topic – so many sincere beliefs by sincere people (although there are those that are less than sincere).

So, why I would enter the “Here’s the wisdom you’ve all been looking for but couldn’t find” game?

Aside from delusions of grandeur and my Napoleonic complex, I’ve spent hours writing about and hours telling the story of it, arriving like a misty feeling on a wet slum day in Notting Hill aged seven, I do believe that everyone else has not quite got it right. Loaded down with self-delusion and slummery still in my thinking, yet I still proceed to tell the world what the world should do with the world.

So, I was willing, nay ‘champing at the bit’ to get into the studio with a famous bod who would ask me questions that would be preposterous about changing and saving the world. And each question I would treat as if they were asking me what colour shoes I prefer, and what’s my favourite film (brown, and the Steve Martin version of The Pink Panther).

I am not the only one who believes they were sent here to change the world and save the world. Every self-help writer, every diet creator, every pumped-up sporting guru all offer themselves as examples to show you out there that you can “save yourself and the world by copying them”.

Yes! The world is not the world really; the world is you!

So, when the Reith Lectures appear on the BBC with all their portentousness, and cake baking is made a life-line and a life-saver, they are all involved in selling something that you can use as your own ‘life-saver’; by saving the world by saving yourself.

So, you’ve got the “I’m here to save the big world” mob, and you’ve got the “I’m here to save your small world” mob mixed in.

They are all product-selling. They are all turning a coin, earning a buck. Because they are all involved in a trade. Whether they are producing books about saving the bigger world or saving the inner world of you, they are involved in an accumulation of personal wealth.

Of course, they will all say they act for higher ideals, and many do. But without the trade, the so-called wisdom doesn’t get spread. And unless you have an audience and therefore a trading base no one is going to listen to you anyway.

The whole business that I have just described is the capitalist system where in the same way that you are offered various types of swimwear, underwear, holidays, cars and watches, you are also offered a kind of ideology, or philosophy of living. And of improving that living.

We need the consumer – who determines the wealth of the wealthy – to buy products from social sellers and not just the market behemoths

This returns me to the question of how I would change the world. And the simple answer is ‘trade’. By recognising the essentiality of trade – that there is not one person on the face of this earth that is not involved in trade, or living on the gains of past trade. In fact, the poorest among us are the people who have the poorest ability to trade in the market place.

So, if asked ‘what would you do to save the world?’ My answer would be to transform trade.

There are only one or two cures to get someone out of poverty. One is to take a poor person and enrich them with the public or charitable purse to such an extent that you get them out of poverty. That means improving not just their shelter and food, but also enabling them to live as full a life as possible, even if they have injuries or inherited health issues; you can’t say you have helped people out of poverty if you only get them to a state where they are just able to exist.

The other way to get someone out of poverty is to up their value in the market place. That requires moving them as astutely as possible away from zero-hour contracts, away from minimum wages, and towards the wages that specialists and professionals get. And for their children to be given all the advantages that come with the fact that mum and dad have got money to spare on education and self-improvement. So that little Nobby and Millie don’t have to slip down the wages scale and end up just about managing and therefore unable to get out of poverty.

So, my vision for the world is to change the way we trade. To stop enriching the gated community and trade with the community. Creating social capitalism and not simply the lumpy, unevenly delivered capital we have at the moment. We need the consumer – who determines the wealth of the wealthy – to buy products from social sellers and not just the market behemoths.

As I have said on countless occasions, I’m looking forward to the creation of a social Amazon which will give the public the consumer hit they want, but with the profits spent on upping the wages of the workers working to deliver that consumer hit.

My delusions of grandeur are based on firm ground. Unlike the rest of those selling you a pig in a poke.

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