Redefining Wealth

Award winning journalist and author Antonia Swinson explores the idea of 'Social Capital' as an alternative to wealth.

Most of the time however hard we scrimp and save, we never have enough money. Fear of annhilation seems very real when there is not enough food in the house for our children or we cannot afford to heat even one room.

Yes, we certainly all need money, but perhaps we should consider that other wealth we have. Social Capital, once defined by writer David Boyle as wealth we forget about when we are too busy thinking about money. Social Capital is the sum of time, energy, expertise, experience, commitment, intuition and imagination built up through networks of neighbourhood, friends and family through reciprocity.

This precious invisible wealth has remained uncounted, because we are used to only counting capital as money, land and property in a limited, historic manner. By historic, I mean fifteenth century. For the traditional method of double entry book keeping invented by the Florentine monk Luca Pacioli in 1494, merely records money in and money out. In that more spiritual age, God, community and family ties were taken as read. It is our poverty that we have been so busy only counting money...

It is a wet Wednesday lunchtime in Glasgow. I am running a workshop titled What Does Money Mean To You? with a group of men, women, unemployed, employed, self employed, never employed, aged 18 to 80. I ask them to spend five minutes writing down the sources of their social capital. Some list!

�� Good friends family and neighbours
�� good health
�� education
�� the five senses
�� personal talents
�� achievements which changed or helped others
�� social networks made through work, hobbies or the local community
�� ability to speak foreign languages
�� stores of good memories
�� good books, music, theatre
�� religious faith
�� appreciation of nature
�� reputation
�� gardening

Who could dismiss this wealth? It makes life worthwhile, contributes to health and happiness, cuts crime and helps us survive recession, war, homelessness and hunger.

The group decides that their social capital, as a percentage of their personal wealth ranges between 40% - 90%. So I ask them to calculate their social capital in cash terms, adapting the method accountants use to estimate goodwill, when valuing businesses.

Deducting annual outgoings from any income after tax, and multiply the remainder by the number of years lived in their community x the numbers of networks they have x number of years in the last decade they have been close to their extended family. Expressing the number in ��000s.

For example: Jo Bloggs has ��1000 left over after outgoings from his ��15,000 salary. Four networks (football, evening class, the office, child���s school) He has lived in the town ten years. Hence 1000 x 4 x10 = ��40,000. Jo Bloggs is 35 years old, and has been on good terms with his family for all the past ten years. 40,000 x10 = ��400,000. ��400,000! Who wants to be a millionaire?

Crazy? Why not, it���s only a fun exercise! But then funny money statistics are juggled all the time in Whitehall. Is it any crazier than conventional accountancy, which considers dead trees cut up for logs as having a value and contributing to the GDP, while living trees have no value at all?

Women, the elderly and the unemployed in the group who have had time to build social capital suddenly realise that they are loaded - billionaires abound. While the workaholics realise they may have cash in the bank, but the balance sheet is certainly not recession proof.

Social capital has nothing whatsoever to do with consumption, but everything to do with sustainable happiness. Politicians and tycoons can���t count it so don���t take account of it in their calculations. More fool them. Though we might ask, just why is it, that though industrial and technological revolutions have transformed our world, the cash rich and powerful have somehow never felt inspired to find the means of recording the wealth and plenty so often possessed by the poor.

Antonia Swinson is the author of Root Of All Evil? How To Make Spiritual Values Count. Phone the CAP office to order your copy, ��7.99 plus ��1.50 p+p - 0161 236 9321.

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