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‘WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT THREE RELATIONSHIPS TO POWER: IT CAN CRUSH YOU; IT CAN HELP YOU; OR YOU CAN BE IT.’
The dominant market economy, now in crisis, is built on an abstract value: money; that bears no resemblance to the real values of human capital and natural capital. Activist Ed Whitfield suggested strategies for regaining control of our common resources alongside forward-thinking economists at the New Economics ReRoute Summit, New York City.
By Louisa Clarence-Smith
‘In a country like the United States where access to free education is readily available, it’s not enough to say if people know how to fish, they won’t be poor’ explained Ed Whitfield, Co-Director at Fund for Democratic Communities.
‘What if you know how to fish, but all the water-holes are locked up? You don’t have access to a fishing pole or a water-hole and your knowledge of how to fish will not even feed you one meal’, he expanded.
Progressive economists at the opening panel discussion for the 2013 reRoute convergence titled ‘Pathways to a New Economy’ discussed strategies for empowering the majority to reclaim common natural resources and human productivity in a capitalist economy driven by privatization and inequality.
‘We have to start with a different set of propositions to even have the conversation [about creating an alternative to capitalism]’, said Alexa Bradley, Program Director at On the Commons.
‘The commons starts with a fundamentally different idea of what is value’, Bradley explained. ‘In a capitalist market-based economy things are the value of their price; of their transaction. In a commons based economy things have value because of the meaning, value, productivity, usefulness they have to a community.’
‘The Great Lakes have more value to us than they would have in a bunch of water bottles’, Bradley summed up, highlighting the unsustainability of a system obsessed with short-term financial profit.
‘We need corporations that put people and planet above profit’, concurred Maliha Safri from The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network.
Safri outlined three strategies that are vital for us to make this change: benefit corporations (working within capitalism); organisations like worker centers (existing in anti-capitalist terrain); and building alternatives to capitalist corporations directly in communities.
All three members of the panel emphasised the important contribution of small-scale local co-operatives. Bradley, once sceptical about the impact of small action groups, now sees that one community’s co-op and another’s food justice effort ‘might eventually mutually resource one-another and have a larger impact’.
Whitfield made a more direct call for activists to up their game following disillusionment with the Occupy Movement. ‘There was frustration with the Occupy Movement not making demands of people in power’, he recalls.
Recognising that activists succeeded in creating democratic spaces to discuss what they wanted out of democracy, he argues that we need to go further by making direct demands of those in power:
‘We need to organise…then we either direct or resist but we say that we want to see new forms of power coming into being because quite frankly a lot of the old forms will collapse under their own weight because of the inherent contradictions in how the [dominant] structure is organised.’
A New Economy represents an alternative to the capitalist economy that produces for profit; not for social necessity. The panel reminded us that if we are to make this shift, then we need to re-familiarise ourselves with a pure form of democracy; complimentary to an economy that values investments not only for quick financial profits, but in the interests of maximising long-term social and environmental returns.
Follow the Extraenvironmentalist live stream for more discussions at the conference this weekend.
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