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Greetings from the New Economy

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo [Some good info on various alternatives to state-corporate capitalism. Smygo has a
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2012
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      [Some good info on various alternatives to state-corporate capitalism.
      Smygo has a section of links on alternatives like these, that seek to
      "build the structure of the new society in the shell of the old":

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo/links/Counter_Economics_001186112419/

      --DC]

      http://www.zcommunications.org/greetings-from-the-new-economy-by-abby-scher
      Greetings from the New Economy
      August 04, 2012
      By Abby Scher
      Source: Dollars & Sense

      “Are you ready for a new economy? Are you ready for a new politics?” The
      challenge at the podium came from Gus Speth, the courtly co-founder of
      the Natural Resources Defense Council, now a professor at Vermont Law
      School, who is on the board of the newly created New Economics Institute
      (NEI). The occasion was the founding conference of NEI, held at Bard
      College in early June, and Speth was making a call for “an economy whose
      very purpose is not to grow profit…but sustain people and the planet.”

      NEI is the remade E.F. Schumacher Society, the group based in
      Massachusetts’ Berkshire mountains that promoted the wisdom of the
      author of Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered for over
      30 years. In honor of this early champion of a sustainable, just economy
      and the idea that big is not necessarily better, the Society nurtured
      economic innovations that support community building—community supported
      agriculture, local currencies, local land trusts.

      With the help of the London-based New Economics Foundation, the
      Schumacher Society rethought what kind of “think and do” tank is needed
      to transform our fossil fuel-powered, finance-bloated, inegalitarian
      economy into one that is resilient, just, and sustainable in the
      environmental and economic transition given true urgency by climate
      change. And with the help of some deep pockets, it re-launched as NEI
      and pulled together, all in one place on Bard’s rural campus on the
      Hudson, some of the thinkers and organizers who might have a piece of
      the puzzle.

      People reimagining ownership and work on the job or in the academy,
      ex-Wall Streeters revealing the secrets of how to curb the power of big
      finance, community people reclaiming the commons—taking air, water, and
      land out of the market—and rebuilding local economies from the bottom
      up, advocates struggling with government to make it responsive, and
      social scientists who are remaking our economic indicators—they may
      never have talked with one another before the Strategies for a New
      Economy conference. But as Bob Massie, the new executive director of NEI
      said, together they created “raw energy.”

      Beyond Growth and Finance

      The “New Economy” moniker is bubbling around lately, with a meaning
      recast far from President Bill Clinton’s neoliberal usage 20 years ago.
      The venerable Washington DC-based Institute for Policy Studies has its
      New Economy Working Group, a partnership with Yes! magazine and the
      22,000-member Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). At
      the core of the call for a New Economy is an effort to come up with
      practical alternatives that democratize the control of the
      economy—including workplaces, finance, and the structure of the firm—in
      ways that are ecologically sustainable.

      The focus on finance—on shrinking a dangerously unstable, extractive
      banking sector and nurturing an alternative one—is powered by such
      people as John Fullerton, the former JPMorgan managing director who
      launched Capital Institute to promote the idea of finance “not as master
      but as servant” and sees a role for “social impact” investing in the New
      Economy.

      It is in the New Economy movement that you’ll hear people talk about how
      to build a “no-growth” economy that shares more and taxes the earth
      less, a view promoted in the United States most notably by Boston
      College professor Juliet Schor. On the board of the new NEI are thinkers
      like Peter Victor of York University in Toronto, author of 2008’s
      Managing Without Growth: Smaller by Design Not Disaster, and Stewart
      Wallis, head of London’s New Economics Foundation, which has been
      popularizing the no-growth idea for years.

      “Even if everybody was to rediscover Keynes, that’s not the answer,”
      Wallis told the NEI crowd, referring to the British economist who
      popularized government investment in the economy during downturns, even
      if it means running deficits, in order to boost demand and employment.
      “We can have an economy with high well-being, high social justice” that
      destroys the planet. “We need a new model, an economy that runs on very
      different metrics, maximizing returns to scarce ecological resources,
      maximizing returns [to] human well-being, good jobs.”

      “We have to move from talking about ourselves as consumers to [regarding
      ourselves as] stewards.” But the New Economy movement is a big tent, and
      for some growth isn’t the question. For Marjorie Kelly, author of Owning
      Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, and a fellow of the
      Tellus Institute, the Boston-based think tank focused on sustainability,
      growth isn’t the focus. In a chat at the conference “bookstore,” she said,

      The problem is not growth but too much finance. You have the overlap of
      debt, unemployment, lack of jobs for youth. ... We can’t have capital
      markets run the economy. It has a destructive focus. It’s starting to
      fall apart. That’s terrifying. You hold on desperately to what you have
      as it collapses. But no, you have an alternative. You have the Right,
      cutting taxes, deregulating. No serious thinker believes that those are
      the solutions. ...There’s an inevitable sorting process. There’s some
      loony ideas and we haven’t sorted that out yet. But they said that about
      democracy.

      Following the NEF and Schumacher, the New Economy umbrella also covers
      those promoting more realistic economic indicators that measure people’s
      well-being and ecological costs, including the Green GDP. It considers
      which business forms—not just worker-owned companies but also so-called
      B-Corporations that consider social impact—might be compatible with a
      just, sustainable economy. It covers those challenging the
      decontextualized, value-free world of neoclassical economics because, as
      Massie said, “our current theories have blinded us.” In late June, this
      was the agenda of Juliet Schor’s week-long Summer Institute in New
      Economics at Boston College, where graduate students sat at the feet of
      Gar Alperovitz of the University of Maryland, James Boyce of the
      University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Duncan Foley of the New School, and
      others.

      It’s a big tent, and feels a bit like the Progressive Movement of the
      early 20th century, when many elites and middle-class people began
      questioning and even challenging how capitalism was organized. Partly
      because of its high price tag, the Bard gathering was almost entirely
      white and highly educated, deploring poverty but not necessarily touched
      by it, yet highly motivated to build a more communal, cooperative
      economy. How these middle-class reformers will share leadership with
      low-income immigrants, progressive unions, and co-ops—key social bases
      for the movement—is a bit of a mystery. It’s no mystery, however, that
      any massive change in the U.S. political economy needs all these sectors
      pulling toward change.

      Andrew Simms, the Brit known for his creative leadership in The Other
      Economic Summits (which dogged G-7 meetings for years before turning
      into London’s New Economy Foundation), put class and political power on
      the table when he told the meeting, “When I hear people talk about
      sustainable capitalism, they are making a strategic error,” adding “If
      we could get where we need to be by writing reports, we would have
      gotten there.” The knowledge that the activists need to raise their game
      ran through the conference. In his plenary, Massie acknowledged who
      largely was not represented in the room: unions, communities of color,
      youth, business. He asked his audience to ask in turn, “How can we work
      together? How can we make this bigger and make the New Economy a reality?”

      Solidarity and Division

      It was only April 2009, at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, that the
      U.S. Solidarity Economy Network held its own sizeable gathering. That
      brought together people in progressive unions, worker co-ops, credit
      unions, food co-ops, green jobs initiatives, and even the peace
      movement. Inspired by the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007 and
      Solidarity Economy movements in Latin America and Quebec, the network
      was soon celebrating the United Steel Workers’ announcement that it
      would try to take over smaller enterprises for worker ownership, based
      on the example of Spain’s Mondragón cooperatives—an effort slowed by the
      impact of the economic crisis on the union. Canadian unions reported
      using their pension funds to support worker ownership.

      There is some overlap between the Solidarity Economy and New Economy
      networks. The NEI conference sought out sustainable business networks
      and social venture funders while the solidarity framework inspired more
      lower-income people and people of color. Worker co-ops came to the New
      Economy gathering at Bard. The green Cleveland co-ops—the complex
      including industrial laundry and urban farm (see “America Beyond
      Capitalism,” D&S, November/December 2011)—received a rousing reception.
      And NEI board member and plenary speaker Gar Alperovitz is one of worker
      ownership’s most vocal academic champions. But as Donnie Maclurcan, of
      Australia’s Post-Growth Institute asked me at the opening session:
      “Where is the acknowledgment of the custodians? [Thanking the janitors]
      is standard in Australia.” A participant set up a sign on a picnic table
      during lunch asking people to come over and talk about race and class.
      The divide is deep. Speth was another who took on the divisions in the
      movements directly but warned the group they had to overcome it:

      Critical here is a common progressive platform. It should embrace a
      profound commitment to social justice, job creation, and environmental
      protection; a sustained challenge to consumerism and commercialism and
      the lifestyles they offer; a healthy skepticism of growth mania and a
      democratic redefinition of what society should be striving to grow; a
      challenge to corporate dominance and a redefinition of the corporation,
      its goals and its management and ownership; a commitment to an array of
      prodemocracy reforms in campaign finance, elections, the regulation of
      lobbying; and much more. A common agenda would also include an ambitious
      set of new national indicators beyond GDP to inform us of the true
      quality of life in America.

      Thinkers like Alperovitz support democratizing our economy by building
      out our existing network of land trusts, consumer and worker
      cooperatives, employee stock ownership programs with workers
      participating in governance, and credit unions—building off institutions
      crisscrossing the country. He mourns the age of unions as past, noting
      that more workers are in worker co-ops or ESOPs than private-sector
      unions. He sees these cooperative endeavors as providing a key base for
      building the future. He gives a political blueprint calling for
      redirecting federal, state and local government support toward these
      enterprises from corporations. This echoes the “cooperative
      commonwealth” envisioned by some 19th-century populists, and has healthy
      if long-lost roots in American thought. Markets are left intact but so
      is government action for the common good.

      With a much greater ecological consciousness than many of her peers,
      Juliet Schor (like Costas Panayotakis in his new book Remaking Scarcity)
      calls for a struggle over our subjectivity and how we define our needs
      in building a more egalitarian, sustainable economy. While Schor was
      unable to attend the conference, in some ways she captures the
      downshifting philosophy of much of the audience better than keynoter
      Alperovitz. She warns us that capitalism’s ability to nimbly create new
      needs and intensify consumerism needs to be challenged on an ecological
      and moral basis. Can we remake the common-sense values that are lodged
      at the core of our current system?

      Schor lays out the more explicit vision of what almost seems like a
      social crusade, yet relies on individual action. She argues we need to
      remove ourselves from the market, step by step where we can: by working
      part-time, making do with less disposable cash income, and doing more on
      our own... That means everything from cooking to making clothes to home
      construction. Drawing on the alternative economy movements promoted by
      the old Schumacher Society, Schor champions local time dollar schemes,
      freecycle sharing, and barter. These schemes seek to intensify community
      values by intensifying your web of support with your neighbors.
      Ultralocal, home-based solar energy production should spread. People
      should embrace the slow money movement by investing locally through
      credit unions other other local networks, not through big finance.
      Meanwhile, she supports expanding the welfare state so that we are not
      subject to markets when it comes to our health, to expand living-wage
      jobs and in protecting the commons.

      Slow Money

      While the thinkers and policy heads dominated the panels at Bard, in the
      hallways I met an organic farmer who is a soil activist and writer, a
      big-city organizer trying to launch a Cleveland-style worker-owned
      initiative in an impoverished area, an Occupier, a member of a worker
      coop, and a Rhode Island man hoping to launch a community currency so
      that impoverished residents can find value in their skills. I also met
      Frank Nuessle of the Public Banking Institute, which is championing
      state banks modeled on North Dakota’s, and Sean McGuire, Maryland’s
      director of sustainability who championed the Genuine Progress Indicator
      so the state now measures economic growth with an eye to its social and
      ecological costs. Attending in force were Transition Woodstock members.
      These last are part of the international Transition movement begun in
      the U.K. that tries to encourage communities to downshift and take up
      resilient, ecologically sound practices so that we respond to climate
      change in an egalitarian way. NEI’s London partner, New Economy
      Foundation, actively supports the Transition movement.

      One of my deepest conversations was with Bonnie Rukin, regional
      coordinator of Slow Money Maine, which holds events matching people who
      can give loans or grants to enterprises creating a local sustainable
      food system. That might mean an organic member-owned restaurant or
      seaweed harvesters. Inspired by Woody Tasch, the former venture
      capitalist who founded Slow Money, the Maine group is one of the more
      successful regional spinoffs. Other people at the conference reported
      struggling projects in Ohio and Colorado. “A funder meets a farmer. A
      farmer meets a legislator. We have a lot of networking time at our
      meetings,” said Rukin, a 62-year-old former organic farmer with a
      nonprofit background. “We catalyzed the flow of $3 million … and untold
      amounts of awareness. In terms of hunger needs, we’re second in the
      country. We’re on par with Alabama. We want to develop the social fabric.”

      “We started with 30 people gathering and we’re up to 450 people,” said
      Rukin. “They’re each given 10 to 15 minutes to tell what they did…then
      the bell would ring,” said Jonathan Lee, a Belfast, Maine Slow Money
      activist. He describes the scene: “People in the audience are from
      foundations, government…” Some skilled businesspeople offer their time.

      Jonah Fertig, a member of the Sprouts cooperative restaurant funded
      through Slow Money Maine, said simply, “It’s helped us to connect to
      different resources and people,” including fellow “farmers, cooks, food
      procecessors…”

      American Sustainable Business Association

      Less explicitly anti-capitalist than many of the alternative economy
      folks are some of the business-oriented elements of the New Economy
      movement that wrestle to reform traditional market-based tools so they
      create incentives toward sustainable, socially just practices. Or
      sometimes they just try to create a counterforce to the big-business
      lobby. “Policies that provide social benefit are called bad for
      business,” David Levine, founding director of the American Sustainable
      Business Association reported to the Bard gathering. “It was time to
      ask, ‘Bad for whose business?’”

      The ASBA formed after the election of President Obama to provide
      lobbying muscle and build political power for policies that tackle
      global warming and invest in job growth. “That means showing up before
      the Energy and Commerce committee and say why regulations are very
      important for business.” It now networks 150 existing local and
      specialized business associations representing 150,000 members. The New
      Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce and women’s business associations are
      among their members.

      “We can actually produce chemicals that are not toxic. We can produce
      materials that are recyclable,” said Levine. “What are we up against?
      It’s the $200 million budget of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While we
      might not have the money, we can show up and have a voice.”

      B-Corporations

      Being obsessed with profit and growth comes with costs that don’t show
      up in the numbers. Community stakeholders and goals are ignored in
      corporate ratings, and companies are captive to Wall Street’s
      short-termism. And Wall Street’s goals are written into corporate law. A
      former bond trader came up with a new corporate form, B-corporations,
      that allows companies to be evaluated by their social performance, not
      just their economic bottom line. Since 2010, laws allowing B-corps have
      been enacted in eight states, most recently in Louisiana. Nathan
      Gilbert’s job at B-Lab, a New York-based nonprofit, is to make it spread.

      Strategists who think investors will voluntarily make better decisions
      if they knew the true impact of companies are also creating alternatives
      like GIIRS, the Global Impact Investing Rating System, to reveal what
      businesses are doing for the environment, job creation, and job quality.

      But only 500 companies are chartered as B-corporations, mostly small
      firms. “They have $3 billion total capitalization—that’s cappuccino
      money at Apple,” said Allen K. White, vice president of Tellus, another
      speaker. Still, he said, “Ownership does matter. It has a moral and
      operational quality.”

      Meanwhile, he pointed out, most of the world’s economic activity is
      controlled by the 1,000 largest corporations, untouched by many of these
      ideas and local movements. Richard Branson of Virgin may have told
      Davos, the gathering of the high and mighty, that we are seeing “the end
      of capitalism,” as White noted. And indeed the Solidarity Economy and
      New Economy movements are debating what should replace it.

      The stakes are high. The environmental writer and campaigner Bill
      McKibben was on hand to give the conference a sense of urgency to curb
      corporations’ destructive power before the imminent damage caused by
      climate change is irreversible. “It is a fundamentally altered planet,”
      he told a packed auditorium. Given our interconnection, it’s not enough
      to work in our home communities. “If we don’t take care of this large
      global crisis, we won’t realize the future toward which we are all working.

      “This is not only a huge practical dilemma but a moral one too,” he
      said, reporting on the dengue fever epidemic he just faced in Bangladesh
      which he survived when undernourished people died. “Today we learned
      this spring was the worst spring and the most extreme. Saudi Arabia had
      the hottest rainstorm recorded on this planet—109 degrees. We’re
      building a science fiction story and I don’t know if we can stop it.”

      “Here’s the good news: Most of what we need to do to deal with global
      warming will also help [people],” he said. With those marching orders,
      his middle-class reform army filed out.

      ABBY SCHER is a sociologist and journalist who was co-editor of Dollars
      & Sense in the 1990s. She is now a D&S Associate and an Associate Fellow
      of the Institute for Policy Studies.

      SOURCES: Juliet Schor, True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans
      Are Creating a Time-rich, Ecologically Light, Small-scale,
      High-satisfaction Economy, Penguin, 2011; Bill Mckibben, Eaarth: Making
      a Life on a Tough New Planet, New York Times, 2010; Costas Panayotakis,
      Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy,
      Pluto, 2011; James Gustave Speth, The Bridge at the Edge of the World:
      Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability,
      Yale University Press, 2008; Marjorie Kelly, Owning Our Future: The
      Emerging Ownership Revolution, Berrett-Koehler, 2012; Tim Jackson,
      Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, Earthscan,
      2009; Gar Alperovitz, America beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth,
      Our Liberty, and Our Democracy, Democracy Collaborative/Dollars & Sense,
      2011; E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People
      Mattered, Harper & Row, 1973; Peter Victor, Managing Without Growth:
      Smaller by Design Not Disaster, Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc. 2008;
      David Brancaccio, “Fixing the Future,” pbs.org; The Democracy
      Collaborative, community-wealth.org; New Economics Institute,
      neweconomicsinstitute.org; The New Economics Foundation,
      neweconomics.org; The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives,
      usworker.coop.

      --
      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      http://tinyurl.com/yd3bxkw
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-unspeakable-and-others/6124911
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      http://tinyurl.com/292yz9
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      "From the point of view of the defense of our society,
      there only exists one danger -- that workers succeed in
      speaking to each other about their condition and their
      aspirations _without intermediaries_."
      --Censor (Gianfranco Sanguinetti), _The Real Report on
      the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy_
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