On February 1, I published a post about practicing extreme self-care for action. At the very end of my action plan, I added “invent a post-capitalist economic system.” I was kind of joking—and kind of not.
Well, it turns out I don’t have to invent a new economy system—it’s already been done, and it’s spreading. People are calling it the “new economy.” In the couple of months since February 1, I have been able to put several of the pieces together and gotten involved in a new economy project in my home town.
Gar Alperovitz: Building Community Wealth
On February 6, I had the opportunity to attend a conversation with historian and political economist Gar Alperovitz. For the first time ever, I heard somebody speak boldly about creating a new economy.
In a few sentences, Gar confirmed what I had believed for a long time; that we need something new. We don’t have to choose between corporate capitalism and state socialism. We can define the future.
This new economy starts at the local and regional level. It starts with community wealth building. This is a broad concept that includes community initiatives that create local jobs and keep money circulating in the local economy. Examples include:
- Democratic ownership (co-ops, worker co-ops, employee ownership)
- Community development (community development corporations, community land trusts)
- Anchor institutions (large institutions supporting the new economy)
- Community finance (community development financial institutions, impact investing)
- Municipal enterprise (cable and broadband services, hotels and tourism)
I look forward to reading Gar’s book, What Then Must We Do?, and will report back.
Upstream Podcast invites us to unlearn everything we knew about economics. It is a thoughtful series of documentaries and conversations on topics such as “The Solidarity Economy” and “The Call For A New Economy.” Here is how creators Della and Robert describe their show:
“Upstream is a show about economics that tells stories. Stories about how we live and relate to each other – socially, culturally, politically. Stories about people on the cutting-edge of new paradigms. Stories about system change. We don’t take our current capitalist system as a given. We don’t assume that we are all self-interested, rational consumers. We’re not interested in business as usual. What we are interested in is telling the stories of the people, places, and ideas that bring us closer to a new, better way of living in the world.”
We can’t undo racism if we don’t undo capitalism.
–Jessica Gordon Nembhard
Small Is Beautiful
I have owned Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher for a number of years, but I think when I started reading it way back when, I wasn’t ready for it. So I stopped reading. Now, I am eagerly devouring the words and their meaning, highlighter in hand.
Reading this now, in 2017—a book that was written the year before I was born—it feels prophetic.
Schumacher makes the case that “our most important task is to get off our present collision course.” And how do we do that? “[W]e must thoroughly understand the problem, and begin to see the possibility of evolving a new life-style, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption: a life-style designed for permanence.”
He asks, “What is enough?”. He questions the idea of unlimited economic growth on two counts: 1) “the availability of basic resources” and 2) “the capacity of the environment to cope with the degree of interference implied.” He even takes on the all-mighty market: “In a sense, the market is the institutionalisation of individualism and non-responsibility.”
To the extent that economic thinking is based on the market, it takes the sacredness out of life, because there can be nothing sacred in something that has a price.
Forty-four years ago, he got it. I look forward to the next two-thirds of the book.
YES! Magazine & the New Economy
There’s nothing better than finding the latest issue of YES! Magazine in the mailbox. While mainstream media covers all that is bad in our world and largely ignores the new economy, YES! Magazine has a whole section dedicated to the topic.
Most recently, David Korten writes that the political divide in our country “need not be so wide as it currently seems.” New economy projects and principles bring people together. Why?
“Local control is a foundational conservative principle. Many progressives embrace that principle as well, with a call to seek solutions in local economies grounded in local ownership. This area of agreement provides a potential foundation for an effective rural-urban political alliance to establish control of jobs, resources, markets, and finance in the hands of people who have a stake in the long-term economic, environmental, and social health of the communities in which they live.”
YES! Magazine “empowers people with the vision and tools to create a healthy planet and vibrant communities.” That’s what we need right now. I’m full of gratitude for the folks who do this work.
The Transition Movement is an international movement that started as a response to peak oil, but is now more about “a movement of communities around the world, who are re-imagining and rebuilding the world around them.” (from Upstream podcast)
I am so fascinated by this term, “transition.” The transition from capitalism to a new economy. The transition from profit first to people first. The transition from raping the earth to restoring the earth.
It’s clear to me, and to many people, where we need to end up. The tricky part is how do we get there. How do we transition from what we have to the world we want? Especially as we’re bound by mortgages, consumer debt, and uninspiring jobs. It is a very interesting problem.
The Transition Movement tackles this problem one project and one city at a time. Cities can decide to become a Transition Town. Transition Streets provides a way for neighbors to get together and learn about energy efficiency, local food, etc. in community. I participated in this program with friends last year, and plan to start another group when I return home.
Also very exciting, there is a first-ever Transition US National Gathering in St. Paul, Minnesota this summer. I’ll be there, and I hope to see you there as well!
Taking Action: Decorah Power
I could read (and write) about new economy projects and strategies forever. But if we’re going to transition to the new economy, we have to actually do something.
So when my friend Andy, executive director at Winneshiek Energy District, contacted me about the possibility of establishing a municipal electric utility in my hometown, Decorah, I said yes, yes, YES!
A few months later, I was on the board (with twelve other amazing peeps) of the new non-profit Decorah Power. The first phase is to raise money for a feasibility study to determine if a municipal electric utility would be in the best interest of our little town. We’re raising money in various ways including house parties, online donations, crowdfunding, and grant writing. We’ll see where this leads!
The new economy is here, it’s growing, and it’s very, very exciting!