Believe in each other, not in markets

The illegitimate faith in greed shown by our PM’s comments this week will lead us over the cliff, destroying all that so many of us love about our country, and ultimately our planet.

‘The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.’ So Boris Johnson is reported as saying this week. Well, the vaccines were actually developed in publicly funded universities, and administered by a publicly funded NHS, within a law-abiding society, bound by a broadly accepted (if fragmenting) social contract.

More fundamentally, I would stake my life that the creativity, innovation and hard work was done by people motivated by a desire to serve their fellow citizens, and to learn and get better at what they do, in an environment where they were trusted not to act in narrow self-interest.

A ten-minute RSA lecture by Dan Pink (watch here if you’re interested) cites research showing how poor greed is at driving performance. Far from being a rule of nature that we’re motivated by greed, it is a lie that has worked its way into the foundations of our economic, and increasingly our social, systems.

Clearly greed can play a part in motivating, but effective management requires more than financial rewards; from picking strawberries to writing software, appealing to self-interest invariably leads to poor, short-term decisions, divisions and misery. An enlightened manager seeks to reward fairly, and then tap into the deeper, more powerful desires for shared purpose, mastery and autonomy.

Harnessing our nobler, more human, motivations is a route to positive change. 

So, why are you getting politics from your greengrocer? The illegitimate faith in greed shown by our PM’s comments will lead us over the cliff, destroying all that so many of us love about our country, and ultimately our planet. This week, I was going to write about Riverford’s plans to reach net zero by 2030 – but the more I come to understand the environmental plans of our government and other institutions, the more I realise they are repeating the same mistakes that got us into this mess: they are substituting CO2 for pounds in their usual patterns of thinking, treating each tonne of carbon saved or sequestered as a commodity, and assuming that greed and the marketplace will find the solutions.

But any market where the quoted price for the same commodity (those tonnes of CO2) varies by a factor of over 100 lacks credibility. We desperately need well-considered policies and courageous leadership, not the further abdication of human responsibilities to dysfunctional markets. If we acknowledge and harness our nobler motivations, so much more is possible.


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  1. I agree – I have often found that finding a solution to a problem is the biggest motivator. This is the focus of the majority of scientists – yes it’s understandable that there often has to be a useful/economic reason for the solution as this will attract investment which is necessary for research. But it is not greed that focuses the mind!

  2. Very much agree. Also, the idea that a greengrocer should not talk to us about these issues (“politics”), is a well worn nonsense. Politics (rather perhaps than party politics) is about how we all live our lives. Food and how it is produced and distributed is pretty fundamental to that. So please keep going Guy.

    1. Hi mds, Guy’s news from the farm really does join the dots and reminds us that ‘the personal is political’. What we eat, buy, and support creates the world around us – thanks for making this important point.

  3. Agree we need leaders who recognise what truly motivates people. Rutger Bregman’s book Humankind A Hopeful History explodes the greed and dog eat dog myths

    1. Thanks so much for this recommendation – looks like an inspiring and thought provoking read.

  4. I wish my greengrocer were PM but by your very nature, Guy, you would but he drawn to politics. Our government does not, I feel, reflect our views, anymore. Citizens are coming to believe, more & more, that we need to go operate with each other, that if we all want to thrive, each of us must thrive. The climate crisis started half a century ago & successive leaders have done little to deal with its. It’s so depressing. The focus is all on the short term. It really is time to go out into the streets & start dictating to our leadership exactly what they need to do.

    1. Public Opinion should be reflected in Government by our MPs. MPs are often representing the party politics and not the electorate. We need public platforms, for public opinion to be expressed and integrated into the national debate. It is the 68 million who make up public opinion which embodies the power of the nation, not the 1450 Parliamentarians. We can only harness our power if we are united. Hence the authoritarian tradition of divide and rule.
      It should not be necessary to take to the streets, should it, where the impact can be diluted when usurped by anger and violence. It gives Government the opportunity to create a problemwhihc it can then ” deal with it” as a means to progress the corpororate political agenda. Leading by example works – Riverford is an exemplar sustainable, circular economy business model. If the Organic farming community can come together, arrange a series of podcasts to inform themselves of the scientific consensus on genetically engineering the UK food supply; realise the detail of what this means for the future of UK farming, then we will have created a powerful voice with which to approach Government, before it’s too late. Similarly if all those who care deeply about the other areas of life which will be impacted by wholesale genetic engineering, unite behind an opinion to communicate to Government. Human Rights, Scientists, Doctors, animal welfare, human, animal and environmental health. Plant life, Forestry, birds, insects, reptiles. The soil microbiome. Chefs, children, mothers at home unable to choose what they feed their families. Young people who will inherit a corrupted planetary gene pool. Now is the time to make our voice heard.

    2. Love the simple idea that ‘if we all want to thrive, each of us must thrive’, and that cooperation is key.

  5. The political machinery is revealed as creaky and defective but it is as ever what we make of it. Standing on the sidelines and blaming “the government “ is really not good enough. We should all get stuck in and seek to make it better . It has always been thus .

  6. Science Fiction not Facts dominates in the halls of leadership these days. Strong, scientifically literate, moral and ethical leadership is essential at this time to break up the multinational monopolies and to tax all corporations equitably. 51 of the largest global economies are corporate, 49 are nations. (2000 figs).The planet is exploited by ” Corporate Legal Persons ” whose profits allow them to negociate/ buy government approvals and avoid liability. Public Opinion needs to become more aware of it’s capacity to create change. There are 68 million UK citizens. Why were they side lined by DEFRA in the Public Consultation (PC) on genetically engineering UK agriculture, This document after being removed from the House of Lords reading of the Agriculture Bill July 2020, was instead presented January 2021 as a technical ” Call for Evidence targeting commercial interests and biotech biased scientists. Does the government feel we do not mind if our freedom to choose what we eat and feed our families on, is usurped….can be entrusted to the PM ? really ? it appears so. Why – because March 17th the PC ended. How many of the British people knew there was a 10 week consultation period, did you ? Thank you for your comments at yesterday’s Sustainable Food Trust Podcast Guy. Particularly on animal welfare. Animals have a right to their own genetic identity, it is criminal to exploit animals by re-engineering their DNA with flawed under- developed gene editing technologies. The research papers on the impacts of failures and the unconscionable exposure to risk reads like a horror movie. The under-developed gene editing technologies, particularly CRSPR/Cas have never been tested in feeding trials, and yet are on the DEFRA agenda within their ” 7 Year Agricultural Transition,” wherein farmers will be financially incentivised to conform. Where do the British people stand on this – a few basic facts are required to be able to make our own decisions : 1. Gene editing is a new form of genetic modification. It is a lab-based process. 2) It was discovered 2012, it is an immature science to manufacture novel foods. Patents are then registered and licences granted to farmers who pay royalties ad infinitum 3) No more owning our own seeds plus possible legal action if another farmers Gene edited crops contaminate our non GE crops, on the premise we are using the GE technology without paying royalties. 4) Contamination of non GE crops by GE crops by insects, birds, pollen drift etc. 5) corruption of the natural gene pool as continueing mutations occur when GE crops and plants cross with natural species. Why is this a problem-after all the Government have been told by the biotech industry this is a natural process indistinguishable from natural species, plus can deliver pharmaceuticals within the plants, can produce drought resistant pesticide resistant plants and feed the burgeoning 10bn global population. Our Government has not done it’s homework and does not realise the biotech industry has been making exactly these points since the 1990s. There is still no proof to substantiate these claims. Last time the Biotech industry proposed open access to UK agriculture, a public survey boycotted GM Frankenstein food. Public opinion is the only risk the government sees in approving biotech GE and GM open access to UK Agriculture now. Hence avoiding pubic opinion this time. Facts for us to consider, proven characteristics of gene editing /the new form of genetically modifying food : The technology is imprecise, therefore results are unpredictable, once released in the environment, genetically engineered organisms are irretrievable = NO RECALL ! In the Public Consultation document the title indicates the decision is predetermined, without the knowledge and consent of the British people. The PC request is simply for Opinion on how to regulate it. But the argument made by BIOtech via our Govt. is that GE is indistinguishable from nature and needs neither safety testing or labelling ! They can’t have it both ways – it’s either new and unique and can be patented. Or it’s a natural result made by man instead of nature and indistinguishable – and therefore can’t be patented – so why risk it !! The fact is gene edited foods is step one in the DEFRA roll out. Step 2 is GM foods as stated in the PC. “The regulation of genetic technologies” – DEFRA.…”
    “Depending on the results of part 1 of the consultation, on the regulation of GE organisms, Defra may seek to amend the statutory definition of a GMO as it applies in England. This would mean that GM legislation would no longer apply to organisms produced by GE and other genetic technologies if they could have been developed using traditional … I don’t know if the 80,000 Riverford customers feel as I do, that I do not consent to being part of a national feeding trial, the first feeding trial on either food or animals, using the public as an open lab – without asking us. I don’t know how the organic farmers feel about leaving the Secretary of the Environment to regulate the national food supply without the science facts, but very enthusiastic about the science fiction. If our organic farmers are not FULLY appraised of the scientific fact, thus unaware of the commercial bias applied when gene editing is presented to Governments around the world, we the 89,000 Riverford consumers in a rapidly expanding organic market, can wave goodbye to organic food. Once the natural gene pool is corrupted by flawed genetically modified organisms – they will mutate indefinately. If bacteria and viruses anywhere and everywhere become antibiotic resistant for example during the gene editing process as they did for example when creating hornless cattle in the US, those antibiotic resistant bacteria could mutate endlessly resulting in more infectious and dangerous pathogens. Gene editing is imprecise because it creates unintended as well as the intended consequences, which can cause massive deletions and alterations in the genetic coding of an organism. Is this really what we should be publicly funding and sentencing a pandemic ridden economy and public to endure.
    We stand on the threshold of arguably one of the most disastrous decisions made by any UK Government ever. We must protect our food freedom !
    Useful sources :

  7. The government and PM want to go back to their normal, greed, abusive work contracts, long hours that damage families, and yet more sleazy dorruption. The status pro of the old way dont work, and I think the state of the environment has taught many that the old politics don’t address what we want. We need a fairer, cleaner and more honest world, where ” all in it tigether” doesn’t mean that the poor pay for governmental and big business’ mistakes. 100 billion to make an ecology damaging rail line, but only 10% of that to cure climate change? No thanks Boris

  8. Oh so agreeing with everything already said. On the ‘eat an elephant’ principle, I have started asking questions of the staff on my rare visits to my local Co-op store. Last week “Does the Co-op have a policy on GM food?” Sadly she did not know what GM food is and I could not explain due to the queue.
    Another day, just crossing everything my body can stand the glyphosate traces in the own brand tortilla chips [main ingredient: maize] thanks to the greater amount of Riverford produce and bread made with Doves Farm organic flour in my diet…
    Will you all who read this start politely asking this sort of thing?

  9. And for those who pooh-pooh the significance of small alterations in the DNA. I have “JUST” a single ‘C’ and ‘G’ switched in my DNA I’m told. The effect of this has been so many bone fractures in my childhood my parents lost count somewhere above 30, and a lifetime of other problems caused by having collagen that is 50% useless throughout my body and brain, costing the NHS a fortune. And I’m one of the LUCKY ones with this anomaly, many are much more seriously affected.

  10. Well said, Guy, an unusually political rant from you. And exactly what I thought when I heard the quote. Greed destroys, tramples and exploits. Its a sense of moral responsibility for the wellbeing of others, of fairness and of wanting to make things better that has enabled progress.


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