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Welcome to Commonomics: How to Build Local Economies Strong Enough for Everyone

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Headlined to H2 10/4/13

But, says Flaccavento, "If you're promoting downtown revitalization and supporting small business, you can't simultaneously build a big box development on the outskirts of town. One will undermine the other."

Shuman wants government to move its money--all of it, "including everything that requires city staff time and energy, from non-local business and refocus it instead--laser-like--on local business."

Who is part of a strong local economy?

Which brings us back to Wendell Berry's idea of the "household." There's not a lawmaker in America who thinks he has more money than his community needs. Deploying that public purse is all about making choices. How are you going to manage the household?  And who's seen and heard in your economic "house"? The human household is a many-faceted thing, not to mention multinational, which can make the language of "local" contentious. Can disparaging non-local businesses spill over into discriminating against non-local workers? Just whom do we call a "local" anyway and do they have to speak our language?

Local arts ...
"It's important to do the right kind of asset mapping," says Sam Miller, director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Communities with robust local economies create environments where artists can thrive and work. Artists "hire workers, rent space, make stuff, sell it," says Miller. Good arts policy is good development policy, and vice versa. Don't fetishize artists, fund them: "When you're defining a economic cluster, do you include artists in the same way you'd include web developers?"

... and local media.
The strongest local communities have local independent media--think Berkeley, Boulder, Tampa (all are community-radio rich). "People need to be well informed about what's happening where they live and how it relates to what's going on around them. People need to get to know each other and be shown a way to respond to the challenges they face," says Jo Ellen Kaiser, executive director of The Media Consortium, a collaborative organization of independent media outlets (both GRITtv and YES! are members).  Put an independent media center in your downtown development district and you give it voice.

Artisanal crafts and local produce are attractive. But if you're going to serve everybody, scale matters. Wealthy communities can afford to do a lot of sexy things that poor communities cannot because no money is coming in.  That's why Dan Swinney believes manufacturing needs to be part of the strong local economy too.

A former machinist who established Manufacturing Renaissance in Chicago, Swinney works in communities that have become job-poor due to globalization  and the closure of local businesses for lack of next-generation owners and managers.  "A lot of people ignore the material aspect of things," he said.

"You can have jobs that build people or destroy people but you need an employment base."  Swinney would prefer ownership of his company be local and democratic. He's all for ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) and is in favor of co-ops with worker ownership and worker control. But, he says, "There's a sequence from lower to higher value." Swinney's first priority is on getting people into jobs.

Getting institutions on board

What's exciting about getting people engaged in local community-building is getting people engaged in how their community works. But if and when people want to change that, "locals" need not just local shops and arts, but institutions that influence policy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, at last, no longer the only business group at most negotiating tables. "I think it's fair to say there's a blossoming of alternative economic development models and business associations," says Greg LeRoy, of Good Jobs First, a group that debunks what it calls the business lobby's "pseudo-science" around what's good for the "business climate."  There's also--among many others--BALLE, the Independent Business Alliance, the Main Street Alliance, and the American Sustainable Business Council.

"There's much broader thinking now, more rooted in the local community, that's able to weigh in on development debates such that the Chamber doesn't have a monopoly any more," LeRoy says.

On the worker side, "a strong local economy would have to have collective organizing of workers in order to be fully democratic," says Michael Lighty, policy director of National Nurses United, based in Oakland, Calif.  "Unions are the key institutions that give individuals collective power."

Still, "The new economy for us is not simply about peppering the landscape with groovy models, but is part of broader economic justice organizing and political action," says Sarah Ludwig, founder and co-director of the New Economy Project in New York. Unless there's broad institutional change--breaking up big banks, effecting some semblance of corporate accountability, getting money out of politics, "you know, just for starters," Ludwig says--"The creation of model institutions will take us only so far."

The most participatory local budgeting process isn't going to stop the crisis in public schools as long as the budget the community's participating in is an austerity budget. Which brings us to the question of power.

Katrina aftermath: Signs like these were found in the New Orleans debris, especially in the Lower Ninth Ward. Photo by Dan Germony.

So how do ordinary people get power in this economy?

From Mississippi to Pine Ridge, allies abound for policymakers, entrepreneurs, and those who want to build strong local economies. But how do those potential allies build power enough to have an influence?

On the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Saket Soni works with guest workers. Arriving in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he saw firsthand the decimation of an entire local economy and the eradication of local control--and he watched, up close, the consequences.

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Laura Flanders is the host of "GRIT TV" the new, news and culture discussion program aired daily on Free Speech TV (Dish Network ch. 9415) and online at the popular blog site Flanders also hosts RadioNation, on Air America Radio, (more...)
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Thank you for this article Laura Flanders. It is G... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Oct 5, 2013 at 10:29:12 PM