by David McCarthy
|Image from the CommonBound event on the New Economy Coalition website.
If you follow this column, it would be easy to view the New Economics as a collection of ideas and thinkers and inspirations, all connected to an economic philosophy that’s kind to human beings and to the planet on which we live. But after attending the CommonBound conference in Boston over the weekend of June 6-8, I am more convinced than ever that this column is something much more than that: it’s a movement. The conference was sponsored by the New Economy Coalition—a remarkable, emerging organization that brings together over a hundred groups working for positive change. About 300 people were initially expected, but in the end over 600 showed up for the event, which was held on the beautiful urban campus of Northeastern University.
The Coalition’s President is Bob Massie, and in his rousing speech on the first morning of the event he said, “To comprehend our moment in history, right now, we must recognize that our drive for a new economy is not new. We’re fighting the same battles that have been fought for centuries, and those battles have been for human dignity, freedom, inclusion, and justice.”
The conference itself showed a high degree of inclusion. Though these types of events tend to skew toward a white, upper middle class, older demographic, this time I saw a vibrant mix of ages, genders, and ethnicities. Women and people of color were very well represented in keynote speeches and breakout sessions. In short, this is a coalition that looks like the real America—in membership and leadership. I also took a great deal of inspiration in the rich variety of the organizations and causes represented, including the movements for environmental justice, labor, and localism, as well as representatives from communities of faith, worker co-ops, time banks and local currencies, and many others.
I attended CommonBound with three colleagues from the Hudson Valley Current—our Executive Director Chris Hewitt, and fellow board members Dr. Nancy Eos and Pamela Boyce Simms. We all found the event very inspiring. Pamela gave a presentation on “Organizing for Regional Resilience” based on her work with TransitionUS and the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub.
The breakout sessions (there were four in all) were a real feast of possibilities, and with about a dozen choices for each of the time slots, it was tough to choose among them. They ranged from discussions of fossil-fuel divestment, to the power of film in raising awareness, to closing the racial wealth gap.
The first session I attended bore the provocative title “Is There a Place for Global Corporations in a Regenerative Economy?” My attitude in going to that one was, “there had better be, because if not, we’re even more screwed than we are already.” I also wanted to hear from John Fullerton, who is something of a reformed Wall Street type, now doing very interesting work with the Capital Institute on new investment models. Also presenting was L. Hunter Lovins, (co-author of Natural Capitalism), a real pioneer in the alternative economics arena.
Another high point for me was a session led by economist Neva Goodwin of Tufts University called “How Do We Change the Economics Curriculum?” It turns out that economics at the university level suffers from an odd mixture of old-school entrenchment and blatant financial and political influence, which in many cases has narrowed the curricula down to a strict presentation of neoclassical views. Instead of a mixture of views representing the true range of existing ideas on the subject (which is called heterodox economics these days), what college students have available is the dogmatic presentation of one school of thought, which by vast coincidence represents the interests of the banking, finance, and corporate sector. Honestly, it reminds me of how Marxian economics was the state-enforced dogma in the Soviet Era.
The final breakout session, attended by three of us from the HV Current, was about time banks and local currencies. We learned about several new local currency projects that are brewing here in the Northeast. We were also honored by the attendance of Edgar Cahn, who is the main founder of the time banking movement. In time banking the unit of currency exchanged between individuals is one person-hour. So for example, if you mow your neighbor’s lawn for an hour, you accumulate one service credit, which you can use to recruit someone else’s labor to help you do something else. This method of “banking” is embraced for its innate network- and community-building nature.
In the closing plenary session, Gar Alperovitz, one of the guiding lights of the New Economy Coalition, compared the struggle for a new economy to the struggle for racial justice in the American South. He urged us to see the magnitude of the task, and to make the commitment to take it on. He talked of movement building, and of not letting obstacles and defeats stop us. And then he highlighted the role of ideas—the big ideas that shape and unify a movement. As he put it, “if you don’t like corporate capitalism, and you don’t want state socialism, what do you want? And if you don’t know, what are you talking about?”
For me, that was a defining moment, because no I don’t like corporate capitalism, and no I don’t want state socialism. In fact, the answer to “what do you want?” was sitting there in that big, hot college gymnasium—six hundred people, representing a full demographic spectrum and a wide range of civil society organizations, all aspiring and working toward an economy that functions fairly for everyone, and puts an end to the planet-destroying madness of the old economy. What we want is a sane economy guided by civil society. And the roots of that sanity run deep in the movements that we are building, which are converging in the movement for the New Economy.
To contact David, email email@example.com. For videos from the CommonBound Conference, visit commonbound.org. For more information about the New Economy movement, visit neweconomy.net.