Greece, France - making enterprise more social...


I was particularly struck by a thought in Paul Mason's latest report from Greece – that the deal with its 'creditors'

forces Greece to repeal bans on Sunday trading, repeal laws that ensure you can get fresh bread on every street corner, and open up the system of family pharmacies, whose owners give informal credit and advice, to takeover by global corporations

What struck me particularly was that these words could be applied almost as accurately to France, where I have lived for the last 3 years.  Nearly everything here closes on Sundays – and, this being France, for 2 hours every lunchtime too; every village has its artisan boulangerie, and its pharmacie.

French pharmacists are in fact an integral part of the national health system and lifestyle – not only do they always take the time to advise you on health problems, you can also do things like collect wild mushrooms and take them to the local pharmacist, who will tell you which to eat and which to throw away.

Last year, French pharmacists went on strike even though they are mostly small-business-people – because they were threatened by legal changes that might, among other things, allow global corporations – giant supermarket chains - to sell over-the-counter medicines.

The supermarkets would no doubt sell cheaper, which is supposed to be good for 'consumers' – but would also threaten the viability of many village pharmacies.  So which would you rather have? - a few cents off paracetamol in an out-of-town shopping mall wasteland, or a real accessible expert in every village?

Nearly every day I talk to temporary refugees (holidaymakers) from England and other 'anglo-saxon' economies who are falling in love with the French lifestyle.*  They express themselves in many and various ways – they hardly know themselves what they are feeling – but their message is clear enough to me: they see the French focus on family life, relationships, well-being, locality, 'terrior' - not on making money, working all hours, acquiring more stuff, the trappings of 'success'.

Supermarkets selling more medicines would also of course add to economic growth; the local pharmacist taking 10 minutes to advise on what you really need adds nothing – might even lead to lost sales in fact - and the 5 minutes to advise you on wild food definitely holds back growth, since not only is nothing bought or sold – the free transactions with nature and people actually replace sales (of supermarket mushrooms).  In France, though, the belief that lower economic growth can actually go with higher quality of life is widely held.

Mason understands that 'free markets' are always in fact constrained by wider social frameworks (institutional, legal, cultural). Otherwise we would still have many unacceptable social effects of 'freedom' such as child labour (as some countries still do) – and we wouldn't have the market constraints actually beloved by global corporations and neo-liberals, such as modern intellectual property rights.  'Capitalism' has and does work very, very differently at different times and in different places.  So many politicians and pudits are asking the wrong question - it's not a choice between free market or intervention, but a question of whether the different market frameworks that have developed and are propagated in different societies contribute to healthy and happy people and communities, or erode them.

Social enterprise presents many examples of how thoughtful people can reshape market mechanisms for good.  We need to add our voices to people like Mason, who, despite his Greek experience, remains an optimist – seeing in the networking capacity of the internet, the productivity unleashed by other new technologies, and even in environmental crisis, the potential to reassert natural and human values, relationships and communities in the face of destructive 'anglo-saxon' globalisation.


*'Anglo-saxon' is heavy with connotation in French, alluding to supposed English and German - but more especially American - approaches to doing business, the marketisation of all aspects of life, the 'cloned high street' kind of aggresive corporate globalisation, neo-liberal economics, etc...

An interesting postscript...

... from The Guardian 13 August 2015 :

Greeks taste breadth of bailout in loaf and lotion rules