So we’re agreed that money is not the bottom line. Someone once asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. He mashed two Old Testament quotations together: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Jesus’ life embodied the kind of self-giving love he was talking about. His actions and teaching redefined neighbour as a radically inclusive category. Because I’m a follower of Jesus this is the bottom line for me. Not the best football, not financial profit, not the greatest good to the greatest number, not the furtherance of the interests of my race but the the love of God and neighbour.
If you’re not a follower of Jesus I can see why the God bit might not appeal to you. But if you’re uncomfortable with the ESL or with financial gain as the bottom line in general, I wonder whether I might make a suggestion of a bottom line to you..
Relationism is a philosophy which puts human relationships at the heart of economic and political decision making. What is good is defined by what is good for strong, positive and mutual human relationships. This is manifestly obvious at the level of the family. Broadly speaking kids from stable, loving homes perform better at school. Adults in stable, loving home relationships are less prone to take time of work with mental health struggles. What’s good for the family is good for society. I recently listened to an interview with Gary Grant, the owner of The Entertainer toy shops about his decision not to open his stores on Sundays in defiance of retail wisdom. His priority as a Christian was to give families time together. The interview also included his story of how his high St retail business has defied the odds of declining high streets and the Coronavirus pandemic to remain a strong business supporting thousands of employees through these tough times.
A focus on strong, honest, long term relationships is a good framework for business. We’re all aware of the benefits of employee ownership in firms like John Lewis and Richer Sounds. “Partners” know that their role in the business is secure and valued, and that it contributes to their own prosperity, so they take pride in their work. It is possible to grow a business rapidly without investing in relationships and employee wellbeing, as Brewdog have recently demonstrated, but toxic working relationships don’t make for good long-haul productivity.
Higher up the economic food chain relationships often seem to be looser. Shareholders can buy or sell speculatively with no regard for the lives and livelihoods of employees and no consequence for themselves. The economic crash of 2008 resulted from the selling on of bad debts as good in an environment where the eventual owners of the mortgage liabilities had absolutely zero relationship with the original lenders, let alone the home owners at the bottom of the pile. Economist Michael Schluter, a leading relational thinker suggests we’d do well to put an end to the limited liability of shareholders for losses or slumps in the companies in which they are invested. Schluter posits mechanisms such as a minimal term for share ownership forcing shareholders to investigate potential investments more thoroughly and to foster positive relationships with other shareholders and with businesses.
If relational thinking had been applied to the question of an ESL, the existing relationship of clubs to fans would have carried far more weight than sometimes distant relationships with financial stakeholders. The potential of grassroots football to build community relationships with trickle-down funding from professional clubs would have meant that a separation from the premier league would have been unthinkable. In a relational framework, the ESL makes little if any sense.