By any account the UK economy is in a dire position. According to a McKinsey report in January total British debt (that's corporate, personal and public debt) was 469pc of GDP.
Our situation is second only to that of Japan, whose economy has atrophied for nearly 20 years.
Heavily indebted, we must do what any household or business would do: cut costs and increase income. For a country this means getting more out of what we spend on public services and growing our private sector.
However, this is easier said than done. Private business is still struggling to access the investment capital that has been monopolised and centralised in the City of London and our public sector is demoralised and dysfunctional.
Our economy, fixated on the dominance of a now failed economic model, has failed to develop any coherent alternative for widening investment, innovation and entrepreneurship.
We are a nation that wishes to start and run businesses, but we lack the capacity, investment capital and regional infrastructure to help businesses grow and prosper.
Unable to make the most of our people and denied access to finance and long-term funding, both the public and the private sector need a new model to drive intensive long-term investment in research and development, business capacity and skill appreciation.
That new model could and should include an updated version of an old one: co-ops. A new, modernised mutualism is one of the ways we can escape the present economic crisis.
Right now we still operate under a shareholder value regime, where companies have increasingly focused on short-term gain using debt leverage to increase stock value.
A new mutualism, where every employee owns something, offers stakeholding instead of shareholding as a method to raise performance, productivity and investment. And this is no fantasy. Employee-owned firms have outperformed the FTSE-All Share Index over the last 18 years by an average of 10pc.
When shares are distributed to all employees we see a minimum 5pc productivity gain and often more, according to research.
Many of the most innovative and successful companies from Google to Gortex extend some form of mutualism to their staff. Some, including John Lewis, make it their entire business model.
One of the most exciting developments in this election is the adoption of a co-op model for the public services. This is where innovation and ownership could truly deliver more for less.
Between 1997 and 2007 public sector productivity declined by 3.4pc, whereas in the private sector it rose by 27.9pc. The gap between the two figures represents some £58bn.
These new co- ops, which the Conservative Party is promising to offer across the public sector, would allow employee buy-outs and the removal of countless layers of bureaucracy and waste.
And let's not forget some of the worst ongoing disputes in British industry are where each side perceives that their interests are opposed.
Mutualism offers a way to create a new common interest. Overcoming union hostility and years of distrust, it allows the company to modernise working practices in exchange for equity stakes that really could raise company productivity and profitability.
British Airways and the Post Office spring to mind as two great brands threatened by industrial disputes and confronted by the need to invest and update. Only a new mutualism could really save them from further disruption and damage.
Moreover a new, mutualised Post Office could be the way that we spread and popularise a more effective and engaged mass investment and capital supply strategy. It could host stock markets for regional businesses and encourage people to direct some of their savings into new local firms that they know and understand.
This would be a win-win situation, providing small firms with capital and engaged investors and developing a new popular investment activity. Creating a new mass mutualism is surely part of the answer to Britain's economic woes.
originally appeared in the Daily Mail, 3 May 2010.