Four ways to prevent a repeat of the economic meltdown

To help prevent a repeat economic meltdown, we need greater economic democracy, participation, transparency, decentralisation and accountability.

By Peter Tatchell

One significant factor in the economic meltdown of the last three years is the undemocratic and unaccountable way in which economic power and decision-making is organised. A small elite of directors, managers and major shareholders decide everything, to the exclusion of employees, consumers and the wider public.

Britain is, in effect, an economic dictatorship, with an extraordinary concentration of economic power and wealth. It is, in part, this lack of economic democracy and accountability that bought Britain to the brink of catastrophe in 2008 and has left the country vulnerable ever since.

Regrettably, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders have no serious plans to reform the economic system that allowed irresponsible decisions by banks and big businesses. This absence of reform leaves Britain vulnerable to more economic chaos in the future.

To help prevent a repeat economic meltdown, we need greater economic democracy, participation, transparency, decentralisation and accountability.

There are four ways we could achieve this:

• Make corporate negligence and recklessness an explicit criminal offence, to reign in big business sharks and ensure more responsible economic management.

Bankers and company bosses should not be able to wreck whole economies and squander with impunity people’s jobs, pensions and savings. They ought to be held personally liable for damaging corporate decisions. This spectre of legal penalties is likely to result in more prudent corporate governance

• Require medium and large-sized companies to be accountable to their employees and to the general public by including on their management boards employee-elected directors and independent directors to represent the interests of consumers.

Employee and consumer directors could act as watchdogs and whistleblowers against corporate irresponsibility. Not being driven by the profit-motive, they could also push for company policies that are more socially inclusive and environmentally protective.

• Give trade unions a majority stake in the management of their members’ pension funds, to decentralise and democratise investment decision-making and to give it a social and ethical dimension. The £900 billion invested in pension funds is a sizeable counter-weight to the economic clout of big business. It could be invested in ways that help make the economy more fair and people-centred.

Trade unions are less likely to invest in the arms trade and sweatshops. They would be more open to investment to meet people’s needs, including renewable energy, affordable housing and quality public transport.

• Grant employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers cooperatives; possibly with funding from trade union-controlled pension funds. These co ops would weaken the power of big corporations, localise economic decision-making and give employees incentives for greater productivity.

Evidence shows that people who are employed in worker-owned enterprises tend to have higher output, better job satisfaction and greater social solidarity.

These four reforms would radically reduce the chances of a re-run of the banking crisis and the subsequent near-failure of the whole economy. They would achieve this goal by a combination of decentralising economic power; incentivising wiser economic decision-making; improving corporate social responsibility; and strengthening the accountability of businesses to their staff and the wider public.

These policies could be implemented unilaterally by a UK government. However, given the globalised economy, they would work most effectively if they were adopted by the EU. Although predominantly a big business cartel, the EU could embrace this alternative economic framework, if the peoples and parties of Europe demand it.

The EU’s massive share of international finance, production and trade would enable it to withstand pressure to conform to the dominant neo-liberal economics of the US-China axis. In other words, Britain and the EU could lead the way in the structural transformation of autocratic, dog-eat-dog capitalism; pioneering a new democratic, cooperative, accountable and socialised economy.

• For more information about Peter Tatchell’s human rights and social justice campaigns visit

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