Ross Pollard: How social enterprise can replace neoliberalism

Ross Pollard of Social Enterprise Scotland says Scotland has a huge opportunity to embrace humanitarian economics and ditch the legacy of Thatcherism which has blighted communities

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE is a term that is increasingly becoming better understood among the public and by politicians, as more and more people turn away from neoliberal business practices, favouring the running of companies with a strong social conscience.

In my position working for Social Enterprise Scotland, I have the privilege of meeting wonderful social entrepreneurs, who tirelessly contribute to the wider community. 

It never ceases to amaze me how motivated and incentivised they are in achieving genuine communal good, and not by profit hoarding.

Throughout Scotland and the rest of Britain, more and more social entrepreneurs are building up a resistance to the dominant neoliberal orthodoxy and pursuing this humanist business philosophy.

Look, for example, at Freedom Bakery in Glasgow, which gives prisoners a second chance by teaching them artisan baking skills, and Social Bite which both allows customers to buy meals for homeless people and employs ex-homeless people. 

The industry diversity of social enterprises is staggering, from sandwich and coffee shops to small energy firms, media companies, housing societies, credit unions, skills development organisations and so much more. 

It stands to demonstrate how capitalism should work, as a circular economic model putting social wellbeing first. Throughout Scotland and the rest of Britain, more and more social entrepreneurs are building up a resistance to the dominant neoliberal orthodoxy and pursuing this humanist business philosophy.

Looking back at classical economics, in British capitalism's early days during the North Atlantic trade of tobacco, rum and sugar in the mid-1700s onwards, economist Adam Smith famously stated his admiration for the free market system, which had brought about cheap imports from America and the Caribbean into Britain. 

The naive idea was that the wealth generated from the free market would eventually flow downward and improve the lives of the state's inhabitants as a whole.

With her self-affirmed battle cry that there was "no such thing as society, only individuals", Thatcher marched onwards with a complete disinterest for the people's lives she destroyed.

However, history shows us otherwise, as Smith himself later became dismayed by the immorality it had unleashed. The Glasgow tobacco lords at the forefront of Atlantic trade grew astronomically wealthy and failed to pass it on to the workers or the community. 

Instead, it was hoarded and spent on lavish personal goods, living the lifestyles of aristocrats, with monument houses to themselves. Not only this but the business practices they employed of ruthless deal making kept the average worker in constant debt through the manipulation of low paying wages.

Is this beginning to sound familiar? Good. It should. Because the neoliberal system of today, that emerged in the 1970s under Thatcher, is based on this original free market of old liberal economics. 

Armed with a simplified, cherry-picked version of Adam Smith's writings, she smashed community after community to install this new ideology. With her self-affirmed battle cry that there was "no such thing as society, only individuals", she marched onwards with a complete disinterest for the people's lives she destroyed.

With the near-absolute power handed to corporate banks which she deregulated, the ballooning of immoral practices and debt led to the monstrous 2008 financial crash. Since the neoliberal balloon burst, we still find ourselves trapped in it, like a helpless spider spinning in the whirlpool, being sucked down the plughole.

It is no accident that Trump was elected and that the rest of the populist right is on the rise across Europe. It is because of the failures of neoliberalism and the inaction of politicians to solve serious social problems.

The greatest achievement of neoliberalism has been to damage society and destabilise the environment. The gap between rich and poor is the widest it has ever been and is only continuing. Global warming continues to damage the natural world. Countries and governing structures continue to become more unstable. 

It is no accident that Trump was elected and that the rest of the populist right is on the rise across Europe. It is because of the failures of neoliberalism and the inaction of politicians to solve serious social problems.

So what is to be done about the mess we are in? The answer is we need to gradually move to a new mainstream economic system which marries the best of the free market, with the strong social conscience of humanism. In other words, the circular economy of social enterprise.

In Scotland we are lucky we already have a strong civil society, and the idea of generating wealth through business and reinvesting that wealth back into the community is seen as positive and forward thinking. 

With government support on our side, we can now push hard to build the country we all want to live in - a socially just society, free from neoliberalism.

With that in mind, the Scottish Government recently launched 'Scotland's Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-2026: A 10 year strategy', which sets out ambitions to increase the number of social enterprises to improve Scottish communities, making them economically and environmentally sustainable.

With government support on our side, we can now push hard to build the country we all want to live in - a socially just society, free from neoliberalism.

Through more funding and more people becoming social entrepreneurs, we can foster a universal culture that promotes a strong, healthy civil society, reversing decades of self-interest seeking Thatcherite individualism.

Picture courtesy of reynermedia

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