Average read time: 5 minutes

How do we build an economy on Quaker principles?

Dozens of Quaker reading groups are now getting to grips with new economic theories. As we launch a new resource, Gurpreet Bola explores the historical roots of today's unequal system.

We need to break down the historic practices of exploitation and extraction.
We need to break down the historic practices of exploitation and extraction.

One year ago, Quaker Peace & Social Witness began publishing a series of booklets about the new economy. Since then, Quakers in reading groups across Scotland, England and Wales have used these booklets to develop answers to the question: how do we build an economy based on Quaker principles?

Last week we released Ownership in the new economy (PDF), the sixth of the seven booklets planned. The full series will be available by November. It's an exciting time as discussion shifts towards action, and anyone can take part.

Preparing for action

In November we're running training on skilling up for a new economy. We'll spend a weekend working out how to make the Quaker new economy happen. I invite all interested Friends to apply. But first, let me introduce you to some of the ideas that can be found in our latest resource.

Exploring the Quaker relationship to ownership and the broader role that Friends play in creating economic systems change can be complicated. I've found it helpful to use the heart, head, hands and feet framework seen at Yearly Meeting Gathering this year. In booklet six we look at two fundamental principles of the new economy – sustainability and equity. This is because it's essential to understand what these really mean if we are to break down the historic practices of exploitation and extraction in the economy.

Heart – Power within: what is our spiritual grounding for economic systems change?

Quakers responded to the 2008 financial crisis by exploring what a Quaker economy could look like. The new economy project emerged from that. It's been ten years since the fall of Northern Rock, and this Britain Yearly Meeting statement made in 2011 is still as relevant as ever:

"The global economic system is posited on continued expansion and growth, and in its pursuit of growth it is often unjust, violent and destructive…We need to ask the question whether this system is so broken that we must urgently work with others of faith and good will to put in its place a different system in which our testimonies can flourish."

The principles of neoliberalism encourage growth, free markets, deregulation and privatisation. For me, the spiritual grounding for systems change comes from recognising that the functions of neoliberal capitalism are completely at odds with Quaker testimonies to sustainability, integrity, simplicity, peace and equality.

Head – Power we're up against: using intellect and reason to be effective

The current economic system has provided humanity with many material benefits. However these benefits have been distributed amongst a privileged few. For the global majority, economic systems that prioritise profits have led to the demolition of sacred land, the over-extraction of natural resources and the exploitation of humans and animals.

Understanding history is key to planning a future for humanity. Readers of Ownership for a new economy will learn more about those responsible for exerting power over land, oceans and the climate. It becomes easier to recognise what needs to change through these reflections on the history of the economy through colonialism, mercantilism and imperialism.

Hands – Power together: how we do things is as important as what we do

Quakers have history in bringing about significant changes in the global economic system. It's not uncommon to find references to Quaker leadership in the abolition movement, and this chapter of our history usefully demonstrates the power of our actions.

But the abolition of slavery did not result in racial equality or the emancipation of black people. Some Friends in the United States have asked themselves the blunt question: 'what do Quakers owe blacks?' They conclude that Quakers must interrogate the connection between capitalism and racism as two integrated systems of oppression. In booklet six we look at the system of white supremacy and how it is embedded in the economy. Without fully acknowledging the power dynamics of the past, we still risk reinforcing oppressive dynamics such as sexism, racism and classism. These dynamics are products of our current system, and can be carried between us and even into our own activism.

Feet – Powering forward: how do we work with others, what do we need to do to move forward?

Quakers have a history of ambitious, creative and effective nonviolent activism. In this booklet we explore a variety of tactics that can begin shifting power towards an economy built on equity and sustainability principles.

We need to work harder, faster and alongside others to make this work. Booklet six encourages us to take lessons from Yearly Meeting Gathering's theme of movement-building to review our actions.

Through the new economy project, my hope is that Quakers will design changes to the economy that work for everyone. After all, 'none of us is free until all of us are free'.

Read more about the new economy work