Visualising the Economic System – and Alternatives

Over the past six months I have been helping Occupy Design UK explore how design can be used to facilitate popular education on the structural causes of the recent economic crisis. During the London Design Festival we held an event at the V&A called ‘Exposing the 1% and De-branding the City’ where we examined information graphics and animations that illustrate the complexity of our economic system and exactly what went so wrong in the recent credit crisis. The following visualisations expose the dynamics and structural problems within the current economic system and propose what we can do to create a more resilient system for long-term prosperity, social justice and sustainability.

Crises of Capitalism. RSA Animate. Cognitive Media.

This animation features Marxist historian David Harvey’s analysis of the structural causes of the economic crisis and the role of crisis in the history of capitalism. Here animation studio Cognitive Media use the Monopoly metaphor that the Occupy Movement has also repeatedly used to describe the systemic dynamics of capitalism (another example can be found below). This video presents an overview of the contradictions of the capitalism system. While the Royal Society of Arts funded this animation, Harvey’s interpretation of the causes economic crisis remains marginal in mainstream economic discourse. The Occupy Movement has successfully created at least some discursive space in mainstream media for radical critiques such as this one.


Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme

CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective and Packard Jennings. Pdf back of poster.


The poster included with the CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective book ‘Work’ is based on a classic illustration Continue reading

Transition in an Age of Austerity


What is the potential for the Transition Towns movement in the current political climate? Is ‘Lambeth the Co-operative Council’ a legitimate solution for south Londoners? Just how dangerous is it to mix up constructed scarcities with geophysical scarcities when talking about how to build resilience into local communities?

These were the quesitons in my mind when I listened to John Thackara, Director of Doors of Perception, at the launch of the RSA Student Design Awards last week. Thackara gave an overview of environmental challenges in design education and as usual he did a good job talking about sustainable design. His is a voice of reason in an industry that often neglects to addresses the consequences of its own activities. Nevertheless, Thackara’s support for Transition Towns and Lambeth as the UK’s first co-operative council deserves some attention.

As someone with first hand experience of Transition organizing in Lambeth, I need to stress that the movement is far from a panacea for this community’s problems. When I tried to highlight this issue from the floor as a question, I was cut off and the moderator reframed my question into an issue about labour rights. This might be a good question (but it was one that Thackara misunderstood and not the question I had in mind). This blog will examine how transition movements relate to the political realities in an age of austerity – and the serious dangers associated with using the notion of scarcities to justify austerity.


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Resistance to the Cuts: What Next? Part One


In one turbulent week since the March 26th movements are consolidating and ideas and plans are emerging. There has been indignation about broken windows and violence in the press and while some have pointed out that the clash between tactics is neither new nor exclusive to the left, movements such as Ukuncut have shown ‘tactical respect’ and gracefully refused to condemn the actions of other protesters on the streets.

Today an article claimed that the dramatic drop in Tory popularity in polls this week demonstrates that big protests do make a difference in political opinion. Yet the real difference a gathering of half a million people makes is deeper than the opinion polls; the debate created by this demonstration is part of a broader social learning process that will inform an ongoing organizing process. 

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Just the Beginning: Resistance to the Cuts #26March


Estimates of a half million people on the streets yesterday. The 26th of March was a great success but only the beginning if we hope to stop the destruction of decades worth of social progress, save education, social services and the NHS. Several hundred thousand are willing to stand up for what they believe and because of them today there is just a little more hope that our resistance to austerity measures will work. Continue reading

Climate or Cuts? The Same Problem!

Today in the House of Commons MPs vote for education cuts in the form of new £9000 a year tuition fees. Today in a courtroom in Nottingham the case against the climate activists who conspired to shut down Ratcliffe Power Station sums up and the jury retires to deliberate. What have they got in common?

These two events are part of the same problem. This is why: our economic system is structurally reliant on growth – and when growth hits geo-physical barriers, or social barriers, or cultural barriers it does whatever it has to do to abolish these barriers. Growth occurs through a process of turning our ecological, social and cultural space into economic space i.e. into commodities to be traded.  The economy needs to do this to grow, and it needs to grow to survive – so yes, as Thatcher might say, within the current set of conditions, ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA).  But there absolutely are alternatives to this way of organizing society. TINA serves elite interests and keeps us from demanding structural change.

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