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Is Compassion the Antidote for Neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism is making us lonely, says George Monbiot, highlighting the plight of those disenfranchised in today's economy.

Noam Chomsky described neoliberalism as profit over people, so what would the converse look like?

The concept of people-centred business has gained considerable traction in recent years, having been embraced by Coops Europe and Fair Trade international, describing business which puts people first. Advocates for a people-centred economy include the Vatican and the UN General Assembly  

So what does business that puts people first actually mean in practice?

People-Centered Economic Development derives from a paper for the steering group for the Committee to (Re)Elect the President, describing a business model which operates for social benefit rather than maximising shareholder returns.  

In the core argument which critiqued the fractional reserve banking system the paper asserted:

"Economics, and indeed human civilization, can only be measured and calibrated in terms of human beings.  Everything in economics has to be adjusted for people, first, and abandoning the illusory numerical analyses that inevitably put numbers ahead of people, capitalism ahead of democracy, and degradation ahead of compassion."

Key Influences

The work of Erich Fromm was one of several key influences on the the P-CED white paper t. In The Art of Loving, Fromm wrote:

“Love of the helpless, the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love ones flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, does love begin to unfold. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and identification. “

Another was Rollo May who in Love and Will seems aware of the dawning social age.

“I wrote Love and Will, because you cannot love unless you also can will. I think, and thought when I wrote that book, that a new way of love would come about. People would learn to be intimate again. They would write letters. There would be a feeling of friendship among people. Now, this is the new age that is coming, and I don’t think it’s a matter chiefly of philosophy.”

The influence of Carl R Rogers, is in his person-centered psycho therapy is the belief that given access to needed resources, a person may resolve their own problems, flourish and grow. Putting this into the context of business and economics to stimulate wealth creation within impoverished communities yields the name People-Centered Economic Development and a business which makes people its central focus.

Though Tolstoy is not mentioned in the bibliography, his perception of The Law of Love and the Law of Violence has been a personal inspiration. At the time of a census in Moscow, Tolstoy asked ‘What to Do’ about the problem of those in poverty.

“Good consists not in the giving of money, it consists in the loving intercourse of men. This alone is needed. Whatever may be the outcome of this, any thing will be better than the present state of things. Then let the final act of our enumerators and directors be to distribute a hundred twenty-kopek pieces to those who have no food; and this will be not a little, not so much because the hungry will have food, because the directors and enumerators will conduct themselves in a humane manner towards a hundred poor people. How are we to compute the possible results which will accrue to the balance of public morality from the fact that, instead of the sentiments of irritation, anger, and envy which we arouse by reckoning the hungry, we shall awaken in a hundred instances a sentiment of good, which will be communicated to a second and a third, and an endless wave which will thus be set in motion and flow between men? And this is a great deal.”

The 1996 white paper concluded:

“Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.”

The Tatars of Crimea

From Crimea in 2003, with a strategy plan for Crimea's repatriated Tatars, Hallman reassned:

'By leaving people in poverty, at risk of their lives due to lack of basic living essentials, we have stepped across the boundary of civilization. We have conceded that these people do not matter, are not important. Allowing them to starve to death, freeze to death, die from deprivation, or simply shooting them, is in the end exactly the same thing. Inflicting or allowing poverty on a group of people or an entire country is a formula for disaster.

These points were made to the President of the United States near the end of 1996. They were heard, appreciated and acted upon, but unfortunately, were not able to be addressed fully and quickly due primarily to political inertia. By way of September 11, 2001 attacks on the US out of Afghanistan – on which the US and the former Soviet Union both inflicted havoc, destruction, and certainly poverty – I rest my case. The tragedy was proof of all I warned about, but, was no more tragedy than that left behind to a people in an far corner of the world whom we thought did not matter and whom we thought were less important than ourselves.

We were wrong.'

Poverty in the UK

Introducing P-CED to the UK in 2004 with a business plan to tackle poverty, P-CED argued:  

"Capitalism is the most powerful economic engine ever devised, yet it came up short with its classical, inherent profit-motive as being presumed to be the driving force. Under that presumption, all is good in the name of profit became the prevailing winds of international economies — thereby giving carte blanche to the notion that greed is good because it is what has driven capitalism. The 1996 paper merely took exception with the assumption that personal profit, greed, and the desire to amass as much money and property on a personal level as possible are inherent and therefore necessary aspects of any capitalist endeavour. While it is in fact very normal for that to be the case, it simply does not follow that it must be the case."

Ukraine's Revolution

Calling for support in 2006, founder Terry Hallman wrote in a 'Marshall Plan' for Ukraine of the need to place abandoned children in family homes, saying

“There is no substitute for a loving family environment for growing children. Existing state care institutions do not and cannot possibly provide this – despite occasional, lingering claims that state care is the best care for children. This attitude is a holdover from Soviet times when the state was idealized as the best possible caretaker for all, including children. Stark reality does not support that notion.”

The 'Marshall Plan' concluded:

'This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for "people-centered" economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine's poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a "top-down" approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first -- not secondarily, along the way or by the way. '

The impact on government policy and subsequent influence can be seen in ‘Every Child Deserves a Family‘, an article published recently by Maidan, in Ukraine, who were the people who discovered his body and published an extract of his communication to USAID and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His letter ended:

“I and others shall continue to think positive and look for aid budgets and funding spigots to be opened much more for people and NGOs in silos, foxholes and trenches, insisting on better than ordnance, and who understand things and how to fix them. We can do that. We can even do it cost-effectively and with far better efficiency than the ordnance route. Welcome to our brave new world. Except it’s not so new: learn to love and respect each other first, especially the weakest, most defenseless, most voiceless among us, then figure out the rest. There aren’t other more important things to do first. This message has been around for at least two thousand years. How difficult is it for us to understand?”

The Vatican and the UN General Assembly.

With his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict appealed for an ethics in our economy which is people-centred, describing a new reality of profit applied for the creation of a more humane society.

Around the same time the president of the UN General Assembly argued:

“The anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion. The objective of our economic and social activity should not be the limitless, endless, mindless accumulation of wealth in a profit-centred economy but rather a people-centred economy that guarantees human needs, human rights, and human security, as well as conserves life on earth. These should be universal values that underpin our ethical and moral responsibility.”

(Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, the President of the United Nations General Assembly speaking in 2009)

"The future of business lies in people not profit" says the Guardian, as if unaware of any part of the above..