“The proper purpose of modern capitalism is to enable mass prosperity,” argues Oxford economics professor Paul Collier in his newish book. “This is a worthwhile goal. But it is not sufficient. In a successful society people flourish, combining prosperity with a sense of belonging and esteem.”
If capitalism, Collier claims, is only about the bottom line, we are impoverished. “As we recognise new obligations to others, we build societies better able to flourish; as we neglect them we do the opposite. Capitalist societies have suffered from a process of neglect, the key symptom being the decline of social trust.”
A sense of belonging encourages obligations that extend beyond profit-and-loss. “Yet, for decades, mainstream politicians have consciously avoided narratives of belonging.” Should they seek to build ties that bind from Land’s End to John O’Groats? If we want renewed British patriotism, do we want it handed down by politicians?
Maybe we should start closer to home. “The answer to a viable and inclusive identity is staring us all in the face. It is the sense of belonging to a place. Why, for example, do I regard myself as a Yorkshireman?”
Beyond wanting their tea to be ‘mashed’, rather than ‘brewed’, Collier does not really nail the Yorkshire essence. Or much identify the building blocks of belonging to a place.
We humbly submit that we might have a role. “Places having a sense of themselves is important in the contemporary world. That’s something we could have a role in,” we told the Observer Food Monthly.
Little that is distinctive extends to all parts of our country. But pockets of distinctiveness are found everywhere. In articulating and amplifying these particularities, we will encourage belonging.
We can’t do this alone. We are just a pub. We are a mere stitch in Birmingham’s rich tapestry.
“While place is the psychological bedrock of a shared sense of belonging,” continues Collier, “it can be supplemented by purposive action.”
Not everyone has the good fortune to have been born in Birmingham but everyone now lucky enough to live here can take purposeful action to make it a better and more distinctive place. Go to the Good Gym. Join the Parity network. Shop at the Slow Food Hub.
Ask – in this general election – not what politicians can do (they will let us down), ask what we can do. Together, in here and now of Birmingham. If 16 Frederick can help, we would love to hear from you.
We would love too for Frederick Street to be closed to traffic during the Jewellery Quarter festival and for the concrete collar between the Jewellery Quarter and the city centre to be cut all year round. (Who, by the way, built that concrete collar? Find out when you walk up our stairs).
If we further open the Jewellery Quarter’s lungs, it will become even more alive. Whether or not these things happen, whatever happens in the general election, 1000 Trades will keep doing what we can to help build senses of place and purpose.
From these ingredients comes belonging. Trust and obligation grow from belonging. Flourishing happens amid trust and obligation.
This is Collier’s logic chain. While it contains some mildly heroic leaps, it stacks up. 1000 Trades will take the first step and we will all see where we end up.