Citizen Action Monitor

Here’s a refreshing vision of an economic model that serves the common good

Unlike the TPP model that primarily serves the avarice of the 1%

No 1578 Posted by fw, January 27, 2016

Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins

“UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said recently “we have to move to a new model of economic growth that is rooted in more investment, more savings and higher exports”.  This growth-at-all-costs mantra runs through pretty much everything, yet at the same time, something fascinating is happening in pretty much every town and city in the country, indeed all around the world.  A new model is emerging which eschews growth for its own sake, appreciates that businesses can get ‘big enough’, which favours local markets over export markets, and which doesn’t seek market domination, rather to inspire others to follow suit and become innovators and entrepreneurs themselves.”Rob Hopkins, Transition Network

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the TPP and Team Trudeau’s reaction to it, which so far has been less than “open and transparent” – his words, not mine. What worries me most is that the Liberals appear not to have formulated any cogent, coherent vision of an economic model that would serve the nation’s common good: and, as well, explain just how the business as usual growth-driven TPP would fit into a ‘common good’ economic model. If they have such a holistic vision, I haven’t seen it.

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Network, now a global movement, has formulated his visionary “manifesto for a craft beer” world economy, one which “eschews growth for its own sake.”

Two personal comments about Rob’s article: first, his ‘new economy’ vision is not really ‘new’ – it dates back to the localized mom and pop economy of the long-forgotten past, as opposed to today’s corporate-owned big-box stores; second, the question must be asked: Will an economy of relatively small entrepreneurs meet the needs and expectations of unemployed job seekers? Having said that, let’s hope the “small is beautiful” model will raise expectations among government policy makers to create a economic vision that goes well beyond the oxymoronic ‘sustainable growth’ for the few to the truly sustainable ‘common good’ for all.

Below, Rob outlines his vision in my abridged repost of his Transition Network piece: subheadings and text highlighting have been added, most photos omitted. Alternatively, read his original article, with photos, by clicking on the following linked title.

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To see the new economy through a glass of beer…” by Rob Hopkins, Transition Network, January 22, 2016

A new economic model is emerging which eschews growth for its own sake

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said recently “we have to move to a new model of economic growth that is rooted in more investment, more savings and higher exports”.  This growth-at-all-costs mantra runs through pretty much everything, yet at the same time, something fascinating is happening in pretty much every town and city in the country, indeed all around the world.  A new model is emerging which eschews growth for its own sake, appreciates that businesses can get ‘big enough’, which favours local markets over export markets, and which doesn’t seek market domination, rather to inspire others to follow suit and become innovators and entrepreneurs themselves.

The craft beer movement exemplifies that new model

Am I talking about the Degrowth movement? Or Transition? No. The craft beer movement. In the conventional business world, being a business that isn’t that bothered about growth is a radical, counter-intuitive even, position to take.  Yet Evin O’Riordain of London’s wonderful Kernel Brewery told a recent edition of ‘In Business’ on Radio 4:

“There isn’t an impetus here on our side at the moment to get any bigger.  That would make more beer, and that would also make a lot more work, and it could be quite a stressful thing … this is our family and our community round here.  It’d be so much preferable if there were lots of relatively small breweries around the place than having a big company that was dominant in a certain market”.

No planning here for export markets in China, for exponential growth, for stock market IPOs

What, not planning for export markets in China?  For exponential growth? For flotation on the stock market?  Something fascinating is happening here, and that’s the subject of this post.

Welcome to the world of craft beer

What is craft beer?….  For me, it represents an unprecedented explosion of flavours and tastes, of breweries vying not to sell the most beer into supermarkets, but to produce the finest beers they can imagine, to introduce people to new and delightful flavours.  It opens the possibility that the range of beer on offer could be as, if not more, extraordinary and diverse than what we assume to be possible for wine.  Indeed, I would imagine that wine is already looking over its shoulder.  It’s a breath of fresh, somewhat hoppy, air.

Craft beer is about maximizing flavour

But that difficulty in defining craft beer is, for some, part of its strength and its charm.  As Tony Naylor put it:

“The great thing about the craft upsurge is that it has made beer fans question everything. After years of lazy real ale dogma (cask beer is morally superior; lager is evil), flavour has become the paramount issue in beer. That is craft’s one guiding aim: the maximization of flavour”.

What’s for sure is that the world’s taste buds, once they’ve been turned onto those flavours, are embracing them fast, and can never go back.  Once you’ve drunk Beavertown Brewery’s ‘Gamma Ray’ or The Kernel’s ‘Table Beer’, for example, could you drink Heineken ever again?

Here come the take-overs

Too bad there’s a growing list of craft breweries selling out to large breweries

But last month it was announced that Camden Town Brewery, a leading craft brewery had just been bought by AB InBev, the company that create Budweiser among others, for £85 million.  They join a growing list of craft breweries, such as Lagunitas, Goose Island, Meantime, Ballast Point, Golden Road and others, selling out to the large breweries.

The Camden take-over has raised some interesting questions: e.g., profit-driven globalization vs. idealized localization

The Camden take-over raises some fascinating questions.  In a passionate article reporting on it, Tony Naylor wrote:

…”for me, the idea that this corporate interference is benign, welcome or necessary, is naive.  But, why? Why does Camden Town Brewery need to be ubiquitous in Britain, much less internationally? In any serious expansion of a brewery’s capacity, growth is talked about as if it is a self-justifying rationale. But – and this goes to the nub of the ethics around craft beer – beyond a certain point, growth is all about profit, not exciting beer.

No craft drinker worth their salty gose wants to see, as is increasingly the case, the same handful of corporate-backed craft beers everywhere.  Indeed, rather than international craft brands, I would argue that what beer needs is more small local breweries, for both practical and ideological reasons. Beer begins to deteriorate as soon as it is shipped from the brewery, so drinking fresh, local beer is the ideal”.

Big companies cut costs, cut people, cut corners and take pride in doing so, criticized one craft brewery owner

The large, yet still independent, craft brewery BrewDog, who very publicly removed Camden Town Brewery ales from its pubs on hearing the take-over news, didn’t pull its punches in a blog it posted shortly afterwards:

“Let’s be honest, the intentions of these big companies are completely clear: they cut costs, they cut people, they cut corners and they take pride in doing so. Their God is market share and their stock market valuations; they act accordingly …  however, it is by standing for everything that big beer is not that craft beer become so successful”.

Growth for whose sake?

Is growth for its own sake always a good thing, when you consider the impacts?

Is growth, for its own sake, always a good thing?  Is it a good thing that we are building many thousands of houses if they are poorly built, energy inefficient, lock us into high carbon lifestyles, are unaffordable, don’t create beautiful places where communities form, and lock people into a new housing debt bubble?  Is more cheap food always a good thing when you take into account the impacts of creating it?  Similarly, why is being able to buy Camden Town Brewery ales anywhere in the country a good thing?

As one craft brewer put it: Part of the problem is that too many entrepreneurs want to own the fucking universe

As David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of Basecamp put it in a speech that went viral online:

“Part of the problem seems to be that nobody these days is content to merely put their dent in the universe. No, they have to fucking own the universe. It’s not enough to be in the market, they have to dominate it. It’s not enough to serve customers, they have to capture them”.

On craft beer and ’emergent properties’

I do think that the world of craft beer offers a fascinating window onto many of the wider debates emerging in this post COP21, “committed-to-1.5-degrees-on-paper-at-least-but-utterly-clueless-as-to-what-getting-there-would-actually-look-like” world.

“We need to give ourselves some scope for thinking differently”, says climate scientist Kevin Anderson

The brilliant Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre, at the end of an interview recently posted on YouTube, said:

“We live in a complex world.  Not just a complicated world, a complex world.  Climate change is a very complex problem.  The great thing about complexity is that it has emergent properties.  Things come out that you would never anticipate, in fact you cannot anticipate them.  We could see change emerge from different places, to give ourselves all some scope for thinking differently about the future”. 

There is scope in the craft beer movement for thinking differently

One of the places I see that potential is in the craft beer movement.  Here we have a shift already underway towards a smaller scale, local, independent, high quality, more flavourful, lower carbon, more delicious way of doing things, driven not by a political campaign, but by simply being better at what it does, and doing it with such passion and creativity…. The craft beer movement has such huge potential to act as one of the butterflies flapping its wings so beloved by complexity thinkers.

A Craft Beer Manifesto

Hopkins submits his manifesto for a craft beer world that would distinguish it from the mega-breweries

Although various attempts at creating a Craft Beer Manifesto have met with varying results, I’d like here to suggest a few thoughts as to what might define the ground that the craft beer world could carve out for itself in reaction to the Camden Town Brewery news.  It brings it closer to the REconomy/Transition approach, and could act as one of the powerful sparks for a thrilling shift, a shift you can already see happening in some craft breweries, but only a few.

It would be:

  • Committed to supporting a new emergent local enterprise culture: this is the most important one for me. A brewery can back emergent local enterprises, creating beers with/for them (as we do at New Lion Brewery). It can support a Local Entrepreneur Forum, offer to make a brew for one of the participants, it can wear its commitment to a new local economy on its sleeve, act as a showcase for innovative new entrepreneurs, run collaborative events, create collaborative brews, and use its presence outside the town to tell those stories. I loved the story last week of Hackney Brewery’s new beer ‘Toast’, created with a local food waste charity and made using waste bread from the area.
  • Rooted in place: where you are from matters.  Celebrate the place, its culture, its history, its emerging new economy, its community.  Wear it on your sleeve.  Speaking to the BBC, Chris Knight of St. Austell Brewery said “localness is part of the romance, the connection with where it comes from and the association of that town, village, country, country: that’s all part of the story”.
  • Aiming for 80/20%: applying the concept of economic localisation to a brewery is complex.  Finding locally-sourced brewing equipment, bottles, ventilation systems and the other things you need when you set up can be very difficult, if not impossible, or prohibitively expensive.  Much of the flavours that people associate with craft brewing comes from New Zealand and US hops.  Yet just as some in the local food movement argue that 80% locally/UK produced and 20% imported feels like a realistic yet ambitious target, how might that apply to brewing?  What local flavours could be experimented, and what local, vernacular (if you can apply that word to drink), as-yet-unimagined flavours might emerge?
  • An artistic creation, not a commodity: craft brewing is about customers and the business owners seeing their brewers not as industrial chemists, but as artists, whose creativity should be nurtured and encouraged.  It’s not about units shifted via striving for lowest common denominator tastes, but rather it’s about something less tangible, more focused on artistry.
  • An education: I know very little about beer.  I know what I like but would struggle to explain why.  Everything I have learnt about beer has come through being interested in craft beer.  It is a movement that wants to you care, wants you to be enthusiastic, wants you to be more knowledgeable, to understand the malts, the hops, the yeasts in what you are drinking. It’s not enough just that you buy it…
  • Beer from here: if I buy a beer that claims to be from a particular place, I want to know it was brewed there, rather than, as is sometimes the case, under contract in the Netherlands or elsewhere.  Keep the work local.
  • Innovative and risk-taking: want to make a beer with Christmas cake in it? Or lavender? Or chilli? Suggesting such things would be a good way to get sacked at Heineken, but in the craft beer world, diversity is deeply treasured, and risk taking is where the rewards lie.  Having said that, I did try a lavender beer once and it was quite horrible.
  • Dedicated to broadening local support rather than export markets: although sales into national markets can be important for the bottom line and for establishing reputation, the more creative thinking is how to broaden local support, how to build a community around the business, how to displace the large brewers from local affections, how to sell direct to local people. On the Radio 4 ‘In Business’ programme mentioned above, Estelle Theobalds from Canopy Beer Company in Herne Hill, London, told that Radio 4 programme: “It’s about people looking for something that they can buy here, drink here, that they couldn’t get 20 miles away for example. I’d say 95% of the beer goes within a 4-mile radius of here”.
  • Only contemplating selling out to their local community, and to no-one else: there are many different models, co-ops, member owned, a small group of investors and others.  It would be great to have a stated principle that if the business feels the need to sell up, or bring in more investment, that it offers the community the first call on that, through a share option.

Final thoughts

A movement or industry that adopted this manifesto would be a powerful example for others

We’re half the way there already.  But a movement, an industry, which takes these ideas to heart, would be such a powerful catalyst. And we see the same latent but vast potential with bread, with vegetables, with meat, with finance and investment, with housing, with energy generation. The “emergent properties” and butterfly-flapping-its-wings potential of “standing for everything that big beer is not” is huge.  Perhaps our call to arms could be the words of the 18th century French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix: “life, life at all costs, life everywhere”.  I’ll drink to that.

A dent in the universe is plenty, so curb your ambition and live happily ever after

I’ll leave you with the words of David Heinemeier Hansson again:

“Examine and interrogate your motivations, reject the money if you dare, and start up something useful. A dent in the universe is plenty.  Curb your ambition.  Live happily ever after”.

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