What if the common good was the goal of the economy? | Christian Felber | TEDxVienna

What if the common good was the goal of the economy? | Christian Felber | TEDxVienna


Translator: Maxime Regaert
Reviewer: Ilse S. Úziel Today, the economy is on its head. (Applause) Let’s put it back on its feet. Does somebody know how this works? This is the way, like this. Back on my feet. It’s possible. The core of the confusion is
that we are not clear about the goal of the economy. Shall it be to make money?
Financial profit? To meet human needs? To increase the common good or the GDP? Many economists and politicians
keep staring at the GDP. But does an ever rising GDP give us
an answer to our big questions? Is it sure to bring along less wars,
more democracy, a better environment? Does it make us happier and healthier? More and more people doubt it
and disengage from this belief. According to a survey, more
than 70% of global citizens say that the present economic model
is not taking care of the planet and society as a whole. According to another survey in Austria,
90% of the population desire an alternative economic order. This is the question:
are there alternatives? Margaret Thatcher said “TINA,”
There Is No Alternative. The answer of civil society movements is
“TAPAs,” There Are Plenty of Alternatives. And one of them is
the economy for the common good. The economy for the common good
is very young. Five years ago, it started
in this very city of Vienna, and since then it has spread
to more than 40 countries. Why is it growing so rapidly? Well, it’s not only a complete
and coherent theoretical model that is based on the same values
that are already shared broadly by the people, and even anchored
in constitutions. It’s also a living movement
with thousands of citizens, companies, universities and municipalities. And thirdly, we developed
a democratic process of implementation. We have learned that it is not sufficient
to have a beautiful alternative, even if it is supported
by the majority of the citizens, if our governments
and parliaments do not like it. Let’s start with the model. The economy for the common good
is a holistic approach to the economy, embedding it into its broader context. No more divorce between
economy and ethics, no more divorce between
economy and feelings, no more divorce between
economy and democracy, and no more divorce between
economy and nature. As we have a holistic view, money
is no longer the goal of the economy. It becomes a means. The goal, intuitively, is the common good. This thought is not new,
it is already in many constitutions. For instance, the Bavarian one.
Totally clear. The German fundamental law says that
property has to serve the common good. This does not mean
that capital is a bad thing. It is just not the goal, it is a means. If you take this inversion
of goal and means seriously, it would have radical consequences on
how we measure success in the economy. Today, we measure success
on all levels of the economy by the accumulation of means. You see these monetary indicators
but not the achievement of the goal. We would deem this a failure of method. You could also consider
this practice as correct, and argue that
the constitutions are wrong. That is why we propose
to clarify this question and let the sovereign citizens decide. If the sovereign citizens decide
that the goal of the economy shall be the accumulation of capital, then we would only have
to change our constitutions. But if the sovereign citizens agree
with what is in the constitutions, then we should change the way
we measure success in the economy, and adjust the measurement of success
in line with the goal. The next good message is that some of these
innovative instruments already exist. You might have heard about
the “better life index” from the OECD, or, a bit more charming,
the “gross national happiness” from the tiny state of Bhutan. They are asking thousands of households
on all aspects of life quality: How are you?
How is your physical and mental health? Will your children be better off than you? Can you trust your neighbors
or the next person that comes along? How are the animals, the trees,
the woods, the fish, the river? Can you take a swim in the river
without health risks? Can you drink the water of the river
without health risks? A common good product
measures what really counts. And if it rises, we can be fully sure
that we are better off. The second secure relationship is between
the success of a single company and the success of the whole society. Today, we cannot be sure
about this relationship. Today, a company can be
financially profitable and do good to everybody and all beings. It is possible. But it is equally possible that a company has a huge financial profit and lays off thousands of people,
increases work pressure, discriminates against women,
boosts inequality, undermines democracy and destroys nature. This is also perfectly possible. In the economy for the common good,
a company can only be successful, if at the same time, it makes
society more successful. Maybe you remember that
this was already Adam Smith’s dream. But his “invisible hand,” which was
in charge of providing the common good, did not do it. Because it simply does not exist. The common good balance sheet
is meant to be a visible hand that makes Adam Smith’s dream come true. It makes the private enterprises
and free markets cause the common good. The common good balance sheet
measures to which degree a company lives and promotes constitutional values, from human dignity
or sustainability to democracy. In the first stage, it makes visible the ethical performance and, if you will, the constitutional fidelity of a company, and makes it distinguishable. All products and services
will tell us transparently who made them, under which conditions,
with which ecological impact, if the company is solidary
or cannibalistic, if it pays a fair tax share
or hides profits in tax havens. The consumer will have
a better-informed, more free choice. The second innovation is
that we want to correct the misrelation of prices between
more ethical products, which are more expensive
in the world today, and less ethical products, which enjoy a competitive advantage for being cheaper. This, in all modesty,
is an unethical market economy. In an ethical market economy,
it will be the other way around. Can we make it? Of course. Linking the common good balance sheet
result to differentiated legal treatments, in all disciplines, from taxes, over tariffs and loan conditions to priority in public procurement,
just for instance. As a consequence,
the ethical products and services would become cheaper to consumers
than the less ethical ones, and only responsible companies
would remain in the market. Finally, the famous laws of the market,
which are political decisions, would be coherent with
the values of our society. So much for the model, which is actually much more complete and consists of 20 cornerstones,
too many for a short TEDx talk. That is why we will see the process. As I already mentioned, we do not see
that governments and parliaments are ready for a deep and systemic change. That is why we propose that
the sovereign citizens shall decide. The principle of sovereignty
is at the heart of our democracies. It comes from the Latin word superanus and means literally “to stand above all.” Somehow we all know that in a democracy,
the people are the highest instance. But did we ever feel it,
in every cell of our bodies? What would it mean if it were
really the highest instance? We would enjoy a long series
of strong sovereign rights, and the first and foremost of those rights
would be the exclusive right to redact, adopt
and change the constitution. The highest document of a democracy,
by who shall it be adopted if not by the highest instance? If the people wrote a constitution, I am fully convinced
that they would never allow banks that are too too big fail,
free movement of capital in tax havens, unlimited inequality
or patents on living organisms, just to name a few. If the people could
write the constitutions, they would put the common good
at the heart of the economy, oblige all banks and companies
to present a common good balance sheet and reward high ethical achievements
and constitutional fidelity. Why am I so sure about that? Because I developed
a game which I have played with tens of thousands of people
in more than twenty countries. The game is called Sovereign Democracy, and it allows to decide on the seemingly, most difficult political
questions, with fun. You want an example? Well, for example, the question
that is regarded as the biggest obstacle to deep and systemic change:
the overconcentration of wealth and power. According to a survey
by the Financial Times, between 70 and 90% of the citizens
from the U.S.A. to China regard today’s inequality as excessive. However, this does not mean
that they ask for full economic equality. They ask for the limitation of inequality. But where would the citizens
limit inequality, if they could decide? Let’s figure it out, here and now, with ten volunteering democratic citizens
who will come up on the stage. Please join me in a half circle,
five women and five men. Don’t hesitate, it will not hurt. It will be fun. Five women, five men. Please join me and we will play
Sovereign Democracy in five minutes. Thank you very much,
the first volunteers are already coming. Please come along, so that
everybody can see you. Thank you very much for coming. 1, 2, 3, … 9, 10. Please come, I’ll come here. So 1, 2, 3, … 9, one more volunteering person. Here is the tenth volunteer. So while we were waiting
for a tenth person, you are an assembly
of sovereign citizens. In the real version,
the process takes a whole year. This is the play version,
in only five minutes. You are the democratic assembly
of Vienna, and today, in a few minutes, we decide on the limitation
of income inequality. We have already decided
a legal minimum wage of 1,500 euros per month, for a full-time job. And now, we decide on the maximum income
in relation with the legal minimum wage. At how many times the legal minimum wage would you limit
the legally allowed highest income, in the same working time? Just listen to your heart, and make
an honest and quick proposal. I will write down all the proposals,
and repeat them clearly so you can hear them. Ten times, first proposal. Second proposal, three times. Twenty times. Five times. Twelve times. One more? Ten again. 73.5 times. OK. I have collected 1, 2, 3… 6 proposals. First innovation:
we will vote on all of them. Three times, five times,
ten times, twelve times, twenty times… and 73.5 times. This is the first innovation:
all the proposals are voted on. Second innovation:
you don’t show your affirmation, but your resistance against each proposal. And the proposal with
the least resistance is the winner. There is a deep reasoning behind this:
every rule, no matter the existing one or any alternative rules,
restricts the liberty of the citizens and causes pain in the population. This procedure, created by
two mathematicians from the university of Graz,
allows us to figure out what rule causes the least pain
in the overall population and restricts liberty
in the least possible degree. You have three options to show
your pain and your resistance. First, you listen to the proposal,
then listen to your heart. You can close your eyes. If there is no pain,
there is no energy for resistance and you don’t raise your arm. If there is some pain, you raise one arm. And if there is a strong pain,
there is a lot of energy for resistance and you raise both arms. Got it? Then let’s start right away. First proposal: the highest income may be up to 3 times the legal minimum wage in the same working time. Please show us your pain
and resistance against this factor 3. 1, 2, 3, 4, … 9. Thank you. Second proposal: the highest income may be
up to 5 times the legal minimum wage. Please show us your pain
and resistance against this proposal. 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Thank you. Third proposal: the highest income may be
up to 10 times the legal minimum wage. Please show us your pain
and resistance against a factor 10. 1, 2, 3, … 6. Next proposal: 12 times. Please show us your resistance
against a factor 12. 1, 2, 3, … 7. Fifth proposal: the highest income may be
up to 20 times the legal minimum wage. Please show us your resistance
against a factor 20. 1, 2, 3, … 11. And last proposal:
the highest income may be up to 73.5 times the legal minimum wage. Please show us your resistance
against the last proposal. 2, 4, 6, … 15. Alright. Which one is the winner? It’s between 5 and 10. Thank you very much for playing,
you may go back to your seats, (Applause) and I will round up here. How long did the sovereign citizens take
to decide on this question? A few minutes. And how long does it take
our governments and parliaments to decide on the very same question? This is what our governments
and parliaments have decided in Austria, Germany, and the U.S.A. at the moment. And this is only one example of many
why we deem it better that the constitutional fundament
of the economy is laid by the sovereign citizens,
and then the detailed laws are made by our representatives. To wrap up, if you want to be part
of such a sovereign process, if you want the vision of an economy
for the common good to come true, then you are warmly welcome to join. We started five years ago in Vienna
with a dozen of pioneer companies. And in only five years,
1,900 companies have joined from more than 40 countries. 300 companies have done
their common good balance sheet, among them three banks, and also
this medium-sized family enterprise which we brought in the Financial Times. There are also public enterprises or
universities that make the balance sheet. This university appointed
a common good officer after doing it. At the same time, we are founding
a bank for the common good, here and now, in Vienna,
of which you can become an owner. You can become a member of 17 associations
from Austria, Spain, Chile… We are also working with
municipalities and regions. This is a Spanish one, and
the upper board literally means “municipality for the common good.” The Italian regional government of
South Tyrol has decided to promote common good companies and municipalities. And we celebrated our biggest success
only recently, at the European level. The Economic and Social Committee,
a body of 350 members, very representative
of the whole civil society, redacted an opinion on
the economy for the common good. And guess the result. An incredible 86% of the members
of this committee decided in favor of including the economy
for the common good in the legal framework
of the European Union and its member states. (Applause) One month ago, we were invited to the
European Parliament for the first time. This is what you can do if you want: you can become a member
of any of these associations, you can found a local group
or join the nearest, you can initiate the balance sheet
in any company, in your company, and you can initiate
a sovereign citizens process in your municipality. You can find all the manuals
on the website. Stéphane Hessel and many others invite you
and encourage you to join the movement. Thank you for engaging in
an economy for the common good. (Applause)

36 Comments on "What if the common good was the goal of the economy? | Christian Felber | TEDxVienna"


  1. So great! Yes!!
    That can be an alternative, a possible solution for our world and our "end time" economy. I definitely agree.

    Reply

  2. At 29:21 a "Top manager minimum wage" rating between 1:1.000 (Austria) and 1:360.000 is shown. What are these numbers? Is there a law that limits the maximum wage of a manager or is that what is happened to be paid?

    Reply

  3. WIPO, (World Intellectual Property Organization), is a $16 TRILLION patent industry that apparently has no regulatory structures in place. The rentiers who profit from dangerous patents that threaten the health of society and the environment need to be reined in and international laws must be implemented.

    Reply

  4. Great approach to kill tax revenue. No company would put its HQ in a country where the minimum and maximum wages are separated by a factor of 10.

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  5. perfectly agree but i guess it required a big general data of cognition, shared and well conceived Values and consciousness.

    Reply

  6. Great talk. The first time I watched was in the AEMS summer course in Vienna.
    A question about the voting system: how is it called? Where can I find more information about it? It is just mentioned that it comes from a paper from two mathematicians from Graz University.
    Thanks!

    Reply

  7. Super. Man spürt den Ethischen Ansatz gut beim … . Gut ausgearbeitet. Eine durch ethische Standarts geführte Gesellschaft mit dem Ziel des Gemeinwohls, nicht des Kapitals. Die vorgeschlagenen Ideen sind evolutionär und sind schon in der Umsetzung ist echt super. Könnte ein Gesellschftliche Befreiung mehr bedeuten. Weiter so.

    Reply

  8. the world needs something like this desperately. Good on you Mr Felber! Loved your book 'Change Everything' in which you flesh out the details by the way.

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  9. Something just occurred to me. In the current economic system investors are often quite removed from the company they're investing in, which leads them to put pressure on the company for financial returns – they're not there on site to see possible negative effects of attempting to maximise profit. The common good balance sheet would be a good tool to help overcome this problem to some extent, but I guess it's the whole culture of businesses approach to why-are-we-even-in-business that has to change more – also something that the Common Good way of doing things seems to want to address – but a much harder thing to see meaningful change in I guess, due to the 'momentum' of the status quo (it's quite entrenched in Western civilization's consciousness to chase the buck whatever the cost to society or the environment.)

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  10. Look up cradle to cradle circular economy and ecology certification…solidarity and demand for more responsible manufacturing will create change.

    Reply

  11. MONOPOLY ? Remember, the game ? Well with a few changes in thinking, that's how UBI could work. How would we pay for it ? Where would the money come from ? Where has the money supply come from for the rich? Print it, Yes ! Pass GO – Collect $1,000 would be a lifetime process, not just a roll of the dice in a 3 hour game. By constantly adding money to the "bank" and dropping the goal of winner take all, the "game" could go on indefinitely. Not winning would be the mutual goal, although the rich would still be sitting on their piles of ca$h, the poor & middle class could make it round the board, monthly, with the help of UBI. If it will work on a board game, it will work in real life. The current economic system (Boardwalk & Park Place) only concentrates money to the top 1%, and the amount in the "bank" is limited, and inaccessible to most of the "players". Whereby the game ends……and society collapses, NOT GOOD ! The goal of UBI would be a game where no one can lose. And I don't think the rich, in their yachts, would be hurt if all those swimming, were given lifeboats. It's just the right thing to do.
    EGP

    Reply

  12. Has anyone presented this to Pope Francis?
    I feel you would have a very strong ally in the catholic Church…
    Honor God Today!

    Reply

  13. Dress it as you like but this sounds to me like the typical German collectivistic drivel, and we know how it ends. No thanks.

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  14. there are things that need to be bought and things that need to be sold. maybe we should socialize things that need to be bought.

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  15. Würden Menschen den Kant'schen Imperativ verinnerlicht haben, bräuchte es solche (guten) Redner und Denker wie Felber nicht.
    Da der Kant'sche Imperativ den meisten aber leider unbekannt ist, kann man nur hoffen, dass Felbers Worte in die Ohren von Unternehmern gelangen. Und von denen auch verstanden bzw. verinnerlicht werden.
    Unter anderem sollte Amazon sich mal fragen, mit welcher Argumentation sie zum Beispiel bestens funktionierende Produkte verschrotten … Wer das veranlasst hat, sollte sich schämen! Wenn es nicht wirtschaftlich ist, zurückgegebene Waren wieder in den Kreislauf einzuordnen, könnte man sie wenigstens Sozialinstitutionen zukommen lassen. Es ist pervers und eine Schande, tadellose Produkte zu verschrotten – nur, weil es wirtschaftlicher ist. Wo bleibt da die Ethik? Sie bleibt auf der Strecke!

    Reply

  16. Howzit man! I like the idea and it's something I was looking for, but I do not understand how one thing in particular has been accepted about the economy or system by such a large organisation such as yours. What I'm talking about is tax, it stifles the economy and is wrong on the basis that it is mandatory, which means that firstly it needs to be enforced with even more energy, as I mentioned also that it simply stifles the economy by making everything more expensive, and lastly because it's not a choice there is no real need to provide value, or equivalent value in return. Tax cannot be apart of this new economy. Am I wrong?

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  17. Oh my God, why this video has got only 36k views?!?! It needs more! Thank you for bringing me hope in the better tomorrow!

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  18. Capitalists actually think there'd still be crime if there was equal wealth! They also think there'd still be suicides if there was equal wealth! Duh! There never should have been any unequal wealth! Now computers make it possible and easy to have it, but people are afraid no one will work! Unbelievable! How could Perfection possibly be imperfect? And why worry about anything once no one is starving any longer, by scientifically getting billions of people volunteering to take food and necessities to starving people worldwide, including taking equipment to all nations to start drilling for WATER, the water of LIFE, as well as a Guaranteed Residual Income!

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  19. This is nothing more than an attack on personal freedom and liberty. We are individual humans with our own dreams and desires, …………….not bees that only exist for the betterment of the hive. Who cares is someone has wealth a million times what I was able to attain as long as it was created and not stolen. We all have benefited form their endeavor and only envious people would be unhappy.

    Reply

  20. You won't even get a consensus on what is the "common good". One person might say that wealth should be taken from those that worked for it and given to those that didn't. Another person would believe that the common good would be for government to enforce the rule of law but let citizens be as free as they can be to enjoy the fruits of their labor which shouldn't be limited by some other group of people. What people mostly complain about is greed which has it's negative side but is in fact a great motivator. This emotion can push people to develop new, better, higher quality products and services then they would have if they were held back and heavily "taxed" for being successful.

    Reply

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