Headlines in the UK have been dominated by one item these past few weeks—the “phone hacking” and related scandals which led to the closure the longstanding “News of the World” tabloid newspaper and its impact on the wider media empire run by Rupert Murdoch. UK Politicians, hitherto too frightened to challenge the power of this media mogul are rising up to call Murdoch and his lieutenants to account and the concentration of voices in the media is being seriously questioned for the first time in years. It is not too dramatic to suggest that democratic forces in Britain are re-awakening from their slumber.
How similar this feels to the Arab Spring, where the forces of democracy rose up against those who ruled to demand that the national rather than the personal interest is paramount. One by one, dictators are being toppled and new political and economic models are being developed.
Interestingly, abusive practices in the UK and across the Arab world were tolerated for years, as many were victimised by the powerful. But the dominoes fell when two individuals, who embodied the very spirit of the innocent victim, brought us to our senses. In Tunisia, it was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the desperate fruit-seller, whose act brought down the Tunisian regime and others which followed. In the UK it was only when we learned that the News of the World hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, a kidnapped young girl, that our outrage gave us all the strength to challenge the seemingly unassailable Murdoch empire.
Our economy has tolerated such abuse for too long—where the societal interest is subverted in the interest of personal privilege. Consider the scene in Italy amid widespread allegations of abuse by of another media mogul, tycoon and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, of having legislated in his financial interest rather than the national interest.
These stories are only the most flagrant violations of social interest in the name of the personal—there are hundreds of others. They may reflect the most grotesque examples of how the greed of the few has been satisfied at the expense of the many, but they are very much the “spirit of the age”—the age where profit maximisation and personal private interest came to be deified.
The Social Economy (which is how I describe the world where social businesses, enterprises and investment become the norm) is a very different model. Although far from perfect, and many in it actors are themselves flawed (as are we all), as a model it demands that BOTH social as well as financial interests are considered. Profits may be optimised, but not maximised. The risks of abuse hopefully thereby lessened.
- Is such a Social Economy a mere pipe dream or an emergent reality?
- What can be done within government to accelerate such a change?
We live in hope!
First published in The Social Edge in July 2011