25 October 2013

Street School Economics

A guest post from Dr Gail Bradbrook, an activist based in Stroud who is active in the Transition and Tax Justice movements and sees economic literacy work as a way to pull these concerns together

A few years ago I began my own journey towards economic literacy. I’ve long been concerned about enabling a more equal, sustainable world and yet how that related to changing the economy was a mystery. I had a pile of vague words and notions in my head, sound bites and ideas, half of them myths. They didn’t connect.

With that comes a sense of disempowerment. Perhaps my longings for justice were just silly in the face of basic economic theory. Perhaps the economy emerged from our human nature and wanting it to be different is an exercise in naivety. It’s certainly convenient if lots of us feel like that and if we remain so cloudy in our understanding. Perhaps it’s no accident that many of us do?
Street School Economics was borne of a personal desire to understand more. Dozens of books, hours of videos and courses later, I have pulled together information and sources on: the Street School website.

As well as looking at some of the basics in economics, such as markets, wealth and money, it also covers some key ideas such as debt, the limits to growth and inequality. A whole raft of solutions are offered, from the actions individuals and communities can take, to the policy solutions that are waiting to be actioned. I hope it’s a resource that people will find useful.

So the idea is to take economics on the streets, to listen to people’s thoughts and give information. So far we have begun to create some kind of ‘art presence’ that will catch the eye. We’ve just decorated a marketing stand we had, but you could use other structures. The presence has contained words which might reflect the kinds of ideas, queries and blockages that a person may have in their mind already, for example: ‘Why not let the banks go bankrupt?’ or ‘I’d rather keep my head in the sand’ or ‘We can deal with debt by giving everyone some money’.

We let people browse and if they want a conversation you can ask what they know about economics. Consider what is the one thing you’d like them to take away? For me it is that this economy has been chosen and there are different types available . . .   we might chose an economy that has the goal of maximising happiness and minimising harm. You can have a table with 'mini lessons' on – we laminated the pages from the Prezi on the site. We had leaflets to hand out and also include leaflets from relevant campaigns or local initiatives.

Obviously the idea of this work is to give people enough knowledge to demand something better. There are other ways to promote economic literacy and we are just starting to pull a network together of those interested in spreading this thinking- be in touch if you want more information (gail.bradbrook AT btinternet.com). We could demonstrate outside economics departments, others have run cafe economiques and lecture series. What else should we try, how do we build a movement?

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