Discussion 2012-09: What Can We Do?

The first in a monthly series of discussion sessions of Café Economique members to complement the monthly talks. Discussion will be equal between all attendees – no speeches or presentations, just exchange of thoughts and ideas. Bring your own along to share.

This one was focused on the practical question of what we can do to improve matters in the present economic climate. What can we change in our personal lives, what should we encourage and recommend in others, what can we campaign for or against. How can we best protect ourselves for the future.

Subject: What Can We Do?
Where: Fade/the Hard to Find Café, 171 Mansfield Rd, Nottingham NG1 3FR
When: 7:30 onwards, Friday 28th September 2012
Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/320823688015567/

Report by attendee Olumide, edited by Matthew:

Café Eco Round Table Discussion @ 7.30pm on the 28th of Sept 2012 at Fade/the Hard to Find Café.

Attendees: Matthew McVeagh (MM), Olumide Adisa (OA), Nigel Lee (NL) and Alison Russell (AR)

1) Nottingham LETS Scheme

Topic was suggested by AR. The questions raised by other members of the group were mostly around sustainability. It was generally agreed that while they might sound glorious in times of austerity, experience shows that they fail to continue due to various factors once the tide turns. Although, we did not further explore what some of these factors are. Other off-shoot models such as the Skills Exchanges in West Bridgford and Nottingham Area 4, and Time-banking in London suggested by MM/NL and OA respectively were explored with MM sharing his own personal experience of working with the the old Nottingham LETS and the Area 4 Skills Exchange.

2) Boycotting supermarkets and switching to locally produced organic vegetables

Topic was suggested by AR. The group was divided on these two issues. MM and AR seemed to be in favour of both, OA counter-posed and NL played the ‘Devil’s Advocate’. It was an interesting discussion that provoked many open questions as the evening progressed – think of an onion peel scenario. Here are some of the unanswered questions: Is boycotting supermarkets and supporting local growers sustainable? Are we equipped as economic justice activists/supporters to challenge the invisible hand of the market? How do we counter-balance the power dynamics of the local farmers vs. the big supermarkets? How do small farmers self-organise within localities? Do they even self-organise? The Devil’s Advocate position: “Some of what is being called organic today really isn’t organic anyway” – NL. [Nigel has since clarified that his point was that some organic box schemes use imported organic supplies. – Matthew] Some of us also recounted our experiences with Abel & Cole and other organic suppliers and how the vegetables were not always fresh and proved to be more expensive. OA’s major argument was around maximising utility – self-defined to mean the choice and variety coupled with resource maximisation. “Why should I be forced to buy from only one producer? The supermarket offers me an efficient way to maximise my time – which is my most valuable resource.” OA also discussed the critical mass theory to provide a premise to the questions around whether local farmers self-organising will create a tipping point in re-dressing the power imbalances. 

We were not able to reconcile our different positions but it was a very interesting debate and in my opinion should be re-visited at a future date.

3) Café Economique in general

Suggestions raised by OA:

(a) Building links with more similar-minded groups. Linking with the student economics group at Nottm Uni. will provide an opportunity to disseminate the ‘alternative economics’ agenda and recruit more people – OA to help with this if the group is happy with doing this.

(b) Deciding on a theme every fortnight for the blog and encouraging contributions from members and anyone who wants to write a piece. Book reviews are also welcome. Some suggested hot button issues (I appreciate that this may not be evoke a consensus across board hence the word “suggest”):

• Taxation
• Carbon taxes/ De-carbonisation/ Green energy agenda
• Government policy e.g. infrastructure spending, gun control
• Oil supply
• Contraception and economics – a topical issue in the US at the moment.
• Population ageing / pensions
• LGBT equality: an economic issue or a social issue
• Foreign investment: e.g. China’s investments in the UK
• Poverty and development

(c) Future planning of Café Economique events: meetings will now be planned in advance (at least three months) as much as possible to source speakers and to have more time to promote the talk. A programme will be trialled on the WordPress blog and Facebook.

Facebook link of Olumide’s original write-up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/cafeeconomiquenottingham/permalink/365565253525950/