The well-being of Europe’s citizens depends less on individual consumption and more on their social consumption of essential goods and services – from water and retail banking to schools and care homes – in what we call the foundational economy. Individual consumption depends on market income, while foundational consumption depends on social infrastructure and delivery systems of networks and branches, which are neither created nor renewed automatically, even as incomes increase. This historically created foundational economy has been wrecked in the last generation by privatisation, outsourcing, franchising and the widespread penetration of opportunistic and predatory business models. The distinctive, primary role of public policy should therefore be to secure the supply of basic services for all citizens (not a quantum of economic growth and jobs). Reconstructing the foundational has to start with a vision of citizenship that identifies foundational entitlements as the conditions for dignified human development, and likewise has to depend on treating the business enterprises central to the foundational economy as juridical persons with claims to entitlements but also with responsibilities and duties. If the aim is citizen well-being and flourishing for the many not the few, then European politics at regional, national and EU level needs to be refocused on foundational consumption and securing universal minimum access and quality. If/when government is unresponsive, the impetus for change has to come from engaging citizens locally and regionally in actions which break with the top down politics of ‘vote for us and we will do this for you’.
technical policy for ‘steering
the economy’ without recognising the broader context of
Keynes’ thinking, especially in The End of Laissez Faire (1926),
about the role of intermediary institutions which are outside
of the state and the market but play important roles in promoting social objectives.
The aim of this chapter is to re-establish the connection
between technical policy and political philosophy which has
(despite spirited challenges) since been ossified by the tripartite
academic division of labour between economics, politics and
since privatisation owes more to GDP growth and London
house prices than rail company marketing; capital investment
in the privatised system was effectively state financed, and
the resulting debt of more than £40 billion now sits on the
government’s balance sheet.
But it is also necessary to produce a broader narrative,
which goes beyond refuting trade claims which are half-truths
and de-contextualised misinformation. This narrative should
present an analysis of the wrecking of the foundationaleconomy: specifically, how and why things go wrong after
and unmetered household electricity
connection: the official estimate is that 13% of all electricity
generated in Brazil is ‘stolen’ and it is as high as 30% in
The organisation of effective, universal providential services
like health and education is as much of a challenge for many
poor and middle-income countries. South Africa spends more
than 5% of GDP on education (which is more than the EU
average) but 27% of children cannot read after attending
school for six years.6 The problems here are as much about
To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair
convincing. (Raymond Williams, Resources of Hope, 1989, p.
This book aims to change established ways of thinking about
economy, society and politics. It argues that the well-being
of Europe’s citizens depends less on individual consumption
and more on their social consumption of essential goods and
services – from water and retail banking, to schools and care
homes – in what we call the foundationaleconomy. Individual
consumption depends on market
-solving as analytic and sequential.
As the opening quotation shows, Rittel and Webber wrote
from what might be termed an end of history position on
Renewing the foundational
what we call the foundationaleconomy: they assumed that
all the infrastructure had been built and the material problems
of urban life had been solved. Hence the assertion that in the
1970s planners and policymakers would be moving on to
tackle trickier problems in different domains.
This triumphalism was premature. We now have a degraded
foundationaleconomy occupied by extractive predators
evaluating policies which reshape these
systems. In this role, units of measurement have been fundamental to scientific, and indeed societal, advance.
When we turn to the social sciences, the units of measurement are less well-established and understood. There are rarely
unified laws or agreed conventions. Instead there is custom
and practice. This does not make the chosen units of measurement good or bad, right or wrong. But it does make them a
point of debate and, sometimes, a bone of contention. This
fascinating book, Foundationaleconomy, can be seen as a