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The Ascendant and Necessary Transition to a New Economy
Even Forbes is jumping on the bandwagon of the “sharing economy” with a recent article on AirBnB. This closely follows Van Jones’s CNN article about the “sharing economy,” but the push to transform our broken economy isn’t just about sharing, though; it isn’t even just about renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transportation, and the other elements of the green economy movement. There is a “new economy movement” that’s pushing for a fundamental shift away from the neoliberal policies that have dominated our economy and society for decades.
This movement shares much in common with the movement to build a green economy through a Green New Deal. It shares the desires of a sustainable planet and economy, along with an economy that provides gainful employment. It shares the belief that the government can play a positive role in job creation rather than the more traditional view of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Heritage Foundation, and the countless other extreme right-wing organizations. It shares the belief that our economy will either rise or fall with the communities it relies on, unlike multinational corporations who scour the planet in search of a more exploitable labor force.
The new economy is based on creating an economy that supports the well-being of people, the planet, and economic prosperity at the same time, what’s come to be called the ‘triple bottom line.’
The ‘triple bottom line’ is a critique of the false idea that the traditional economic bottom line is the right way for business to operate. Advocates of the ‘triple bottom line’ emphasize the importance of balancing three different bottom lines: a social bottom line referring to the benefit of communities and workers, an environmental bottom line referring to the health of the planet, and an economic bottom like referring to the ability of a business to continue to exist and fulfill its obligation to the social and environmental bottom lines.
The new economy is rooted in the goal of fundamentally transforming the economy from one based on endless profit and the growth of GDP to one that pursues a broader mission. It rests upon a notion of prosperity and human well-being beyond the shallow lifestyle of consumer culture and is much more oriented towards systemic transformation than the movement to build a green economy.
More and more each day, we see the need for a fundamental transformation that would take us well beyond 20th century notions of capitalism, socialism, communism, etc. People were much more optimistic about capitalism than they are today, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce now recognizes. The new economy is home to those who understand that a more fundamental transformation is necessary and that notions like natural capitalism are part of something greater, something catalyzing a movement that won’t succeed if a ‘green capitalism’ is all that is created.
David Korten, author and co-founder of the New Economy Working Group (NEWG), uses the term new economy to refer to something much greater, as a much larger transformation that’s needed: a great turning from empire to Earth community. This is a very abstract notion, but the steps necessary to get there are being codified in the work of NEWG and others like the Tellus Institute with their Great Transition Initiative.
The new economy is home to those who understand that a more fundamental transformation is necessary and that notions like natural capitalism are part of something greater, something catalyzing a movement that won’t succeed if a ‘green capitalism’ is all that is created.
The Post-Carbon Institute is another organization working to build a new economy based on extremely transformative ideas. Richard Heinberg, founder and current senior fellow at Post-Carbon, has focused on the potential for ‘community economic laboratories’ to catalyze economic systems based on cooperation and ecology. He believes this burgeoning new economy is part of a much broader ‘cooperative Darwinian moment’ that is a next phase of evolution for human civilization. Still others like ecologist David Orr sees the new economy as part of an ‘ecological enlightenment’ and a coming ‘biophillia revolution.’
Gus Speth, another leader of the new economy movement, created a 10-point charter for a new economy that outlines the core principles upon which this broader movement is based. These focus on redefining economic progress towards a broader notion of social and environmental prosperity, economic democracy, and more effective government regulation. He included a focus on the local economy first, maintaining an economy that fosters ecology itself, equitable development for the worst off, the guarantee of living wage work and the right to organize. The charter goes on to include a meaningful life beyond consumerism, the reorientation of the financial sector and money itself to serve the needs of communities, and a reworking of international relations to be used to actively promote peace, rather than deception and war.
This movement to build a new economy includes hundreds of thousands of businesses that are becoming concerned with improving social and environmental conditions as part of their regular business operations. These sustainable and socially responsible businesses are providing a new direction for a growing portion of the economy and, in many ways, are fostering the 10-point charter Gus outlined. With a bold push to strengthen local economies at the expense of large corporations, even business, a seemingly unlikely ally, will increasingly be engines of transformation. These most forward thinking businesses have joined together to create a new political voice for themselves called the American Sustainable Business Council. From energy and climate change to fair elections and taxation, ASBC is bringing the new business voice to politics.
There is also the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE), American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), Green America, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, and others who work with businesses to build the new economy at the local level. BALLE and AMIBA are both national organizations with a membership made up local organizations whose membership are local businesses and, in some cases, local non-profits and individuals. They operate much like local chambers of commerce, except more focused on building local economies. BALLE has a much stronger focus on social and environmental justice, while AMIBA chapters are found in cities and other places where forming BALLE chapters would be difficult.
Green America has a diverse set of programs focused on individual engagement for social and environmental justice, business engagement on issues and policy, educational programs around investing with a positive impact, and more. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing is singularly focused on being a resource to professionals within this growing industry, transforming finance into a productive rather than destructive force. In recognizing that an understanding of the social and environmental realities of a company’s behavior can impact their bottom line, thus the need for a triple bottom line, investors within this space have been successful in outperforming the broader market.
Not only have they, in most cases, been successful in outperforming the market, they’ve build their industry on the basis of activism and directly engaging corporations to improve their actions. As movements grow across the country against the actions of major corporations within the financial sector like Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, the energy sector like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and others, this investment movement is working as shareholders of these companies, using those assets to push for change from the inside. There are even organizations like As You Sow and Confluence Philanthropy that focus on these shareholder engagement strategies as well as broader ways to move money to support building new economy entities.
Founded as an organization in September 2009, the New Economy Network (NEN) has been a network individuals and organizations working to build an economy based on the well being of people, the planet, and profit at the same time. The network includes some 70+ member organizations like the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy, CERES, the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard, the Tellus Institute, the Capital Institute, Demos, the Post-Carbon Institute, and others. Some of their members are other umbrella organizations like the New Economy Working Group, the New Economics Institute, the Solidarity Economy Network, and the American Sustainable Business Council. Each of their members has a slightly different focus but all share the common mission of creating a new economy based on the triple bottom line. Most of them are institutes and think tanks though, so though the movement to build a new economy is large, it’s disconnected from more traditional progressive organizations, environmental organizations, and a broader movement with a mass base.
What’s needed is the expansion of a much broader movement to build a new economy as the first step in something much more transformative. The new economy movement must directly engage with and build local resilient economies with marginalized communities. It must begin with ways that create immediate and tangible benefits rather than advancing abstract and distant theories.
The Center for a New American Dream came out with a toolkit on collaborative consumption recently to help communities start tool sharing programs, organize community clothing swaps, lending locally, sharing time, labor, and skills with a focus on time banks; even setting up solar cooperatives. Now if only other organizations in the new economy movement would take a lesson from their work and begin to focus on creating local solutions.
Creating local and participatory forms of economic democracy to build an economy inclusive of marginalized communities is essential for the future of these movements during times when communities need innovative solutions more than ever.
In doing so, which is very much central to the entire new economy framework, a movement can grow that is equitable, broad, and diverse with an expanded capacity for transformative work. It can link previously divergent groups like businesses and low-income communities, leveraging that diverse network to create innovative efforts building a new economy from the ground up.
We see work already happening to support solutions in low-income communities like the work of Jobs with Justice, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the rest of the Inter-Alliance Dialogue, and a national movement that came together as the U.S. Social Forum back in 2010 and will be coming together again in 2014. If the new economy is going to grow, it has to act in solidarity with marginalized communities to build solutions together. By creating linkages with economic, social, and environmental justice organizations like National People’s Action, community and economic development organizations like Community Action Partnership, the new economy movement can expand a grassroots movement with transformative potential.
Creating local and participatory forms of economic democracy to build an economy inclusive of marginalized communities is essential for the future of these movements during times when communities need innovative solutions more than ever. For all the talk about building a new economy or a green economy, too few are supporting marginalized communities to build up their collective power to expand local opportunities. Furthering support for low-income and otherwise marginalized communities, the new economy movement needs to take lessons from best practices in local democracy like participatory budgeting in Chicago and NYC, systems of town-hall assemblies like those in Vermont, neighborhood councils like those in Portland, and participatory planning practices in developing nations like Mexico. By working to foster solutions for communities, both economic and political forms of democracy, the new economy movement can become the change that’s so desperately needed today.
The New Economy Network recently merged with the New Economics Institute based on their shared mission as well as the broader recognition that the overall new economy movement would be stronger with a single entity taking the lead. The goal of the merger was to create a new entity called the New Economy Coalition to focus much more heavily on supporting the efforts of local communities to build solutions together. It won’t be just another 501c3 non-profit organization though, as the intent is to build a set of coalition partners who will have a direct hand in creating programs collectively, while also electing a super majority of the board of directors.
The coalition itself will be part of a growing organization whose direction and governance is democratic to the core. It is this degree of internal democracy that’s required to transcend the reality of the new economy movement and far too many progressive organizations and movements. What is often the case a lack of representation from marginalized communities and even those organizations that serve low-income communities and communities of color, for example. This is something even the Heritage Foundation has come to realize. If the new economy movement itself cannot transcend these trappings of the old economy that claims to act for all communities while systemically excluding marginalized communities, it will remain a niche movement without the capacity to create the lasting and transformative change that’s so desperately needed in these crisis-ridden times.
Beyond its internal democracy, though, this New Economy Coalition will, hopefully, begin to directly support low-income and otherwise marginalized communities in both creating and expanding solutions; jobs with a decent livelihood that exemplify an economy based on people, the planet, and prosperity at the same time. Only by working to create and support actually existing solutions will this movement be able to help foster a thriving, resilient, and transformative coalition with an empowered base of people striving for greater degrees of self-determination beginning at the local level. Depending on how well it’s able to balance supporting local solutions with innovation around public policy, finance, and more, the coalition could thrive by connecting stakeholders and communities that haven’t come together before to create direly needed solutions.