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Common Bound: Moving Together Towards a New Economy

By       Message Marguerite Chandler       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   12 comments

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he youngest participant is a 9-year old girl. Grey beards and grey heads mix with college student interns. Men and women of all ages and races, representing every part of the United States, welcome visitors from Canada and South America. There's a spirit of generosity and inclusiveness, laughter, poetry, and an inspiring vision of a generative, thriving world and a hunger to hear from innovators and early adapters. Everyone has questions--and some answers. As Ed Whitfield, the co-founder of the Greensboro, NC, Fund for Democratic Communities (http://f4dc.org ) observed, "People are resilient and wildly creative."

This is the spirit of Common Bound, a 2-day conference in Boston sponsored by New Economy Coalition, (http://neweconomy.net ) a movement of movements, 115 organizations, 650 participants. We came here to share our hard-earned wisdom, seek collaborations, create new possibilities, eager to learn from one another. Hard issues like the costs of mass incarceration and austerity are explored. Questions are raised like how Patagonia's green business model could transform a Wal-Mart-type corporation and what role worker cooperatives, time banks, and land trusts play to bring elements of the New Economy to scale.

Redefining Progress

Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be a reflection of what we value, a measure of our national prosperity. Unfortunately, GDP is increased by pollution, injustice, war, oil spills, sickness, huge gaps in income disparity, the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, family violence, addictions--each priced and added as if it were an addition to our nation's economic wellbeing (http://www.quickmba.com/econ/macro/gdp/).

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For example, if two oil tankers left the dock, and one arrived safely as its destination and the other spilled oil all over the waterways, the one that created the oil spill would add more value to our GDP because of the additional dollars it generates to clean up the spill. As Jihan Gearon, Navaho leader from the Black Mesa Water Coalition (www.blackmesawatercoalition.org) said, "The biggest challenge is fear. It feels like we're biting the hand that feeds us [when our jobs depend on polluting industries like coal and oil]. We must create an inspiration campaign--[that's the work that's] the most important and the most fun."

Most would say that these GDP measures are not the ones we want. Yet if we look, we can see how each of us personally gains from these social ills. As individuals, we say we're tired of war and concerned about climate change, but we want cheap oil, cheap food, throw-away plastics, and cheap natural gas. As a nation, we support the prison-industrial complex. Seventy percent of our private prisons are built by only two corporations. For years, these corporations have successfully lobbied for laws that increase the severity and length of sentences that fall disproportionally on young men of color. Their contracts require that 90% of the beds be filled each night. These two corporations enjoy a labor force that gets no vacations, no holidays, and no benefits. Prisoners earn an average of 19 cents an hour--a modern form of slavery--so these private prisons are hugely profitable. There's a "Million Share Club" that includes Bank of America, Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, as well as many universities, labor unions, and mutual funds whose portfolios provide capital to build these private prisons. Not surprisingly, we've been slow to question these "investments"--and their societal costs.

Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) measures what we want

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Twenty years ago, Ted Halstead, a Dartmouth graduate started a non-profit think tank to envision how to measure what we do want. Then with $200,000 seed money from Bill Moyers and a degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he expanded the concept to form Redefining Progress (http://rprogress.org ), a non-profit to shift "public policy to achieve a sustainable economy, a healthy environment, and a just society."

Since then, many governments around the world have been quantifying what a thriving, livable, just society would look like and using a different way to measure value. Called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), this "new economy" metric has variables that reflect the world we long for, adding points for maintaining the "commons" and quality of life and subtracting points for "externalizing" destruction of the commons and degradations of our planet and human well-being. Comparing GDP with GPI in the U.S. from 1950- 2004 shows that true economic "growth" has been flat since 1970.

Think of the difference it might it make if our economic measurements acknowledge the larger economic benefits of increases to the poor compared to a similar given increase to the income of the rich; if we valued the contributions to our society of work done in the home and community like childcare, home repairs, and volunteer work (as GPI does); if we saw crime and its large economic costs to families and society (legal fees, medical expenses, damage to property) as GPI subtractions instead of as additions to well-being (as GDP does); if oil spills and their clean up were treated as current costs instead of treating them as GDP current income (GPI subtracts the human health and environmental costs of air and water pollution).

Five states (MD, OR, UT, and VT) are already using GPI in budgeting and assessment to challenge the "limitless growth" model and distinguish between "growth" and "well being." Twenty-two other states are considering how they might do the same. Countries all around the world are embracing this and other GPI-type models, and asking the key question, "Growth of what?" (On the other hand, we can have limitless growth of educational opportunities, creativity, volunteerism, peaceful solutions, etc.) As Bob Massie, New Economy Coalition President, said, "Our drive for a new economy is not new--it's been fought for for centuries"The rising tide of capitalism, the rising seas of climate change, are only lifting the yachts"We can move from competition to mutual generosity, from scarcity to abundance because we have each other--Imagine if we all came together!"

Protecting people and our planet

What becomes more and more obvious as one presenter after another speaks is how we're all in this together. We have only one Earth, and although the costs of the "old" economy are impacting the poorest people first, eventually all of us are affected. For example, a recent TED talk by billionaire Nick Hanauer spoke about who creates jobs. Basically he pointed to the need for a robust middle class that needs goods and services, without which, people like him eventually have no one to sell to. In other words, we are bound together in a cycle of inter-dependence that's either mutually beneficial or mutually destructive. We all share the need for clean air and water. We all want to live in safe, healthy places. We all want a peaceful world. We want opportunities for our children and grandchildren so they can learn and grow.

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Turning inspiration into action

So given our history of fear, anger, violence, destruction, distrust, waste, how can we get from the old economy to the New Economy? The Common Bound conference modeled what that would take. We start by acknowledging our past and what hasn't worked. We notice how certain concepts trigger old economy responses, while other concepts open the space for New Economy responses. For example, in a national study when people on the street were asked about the value of our government, most said things like "government should stay out, " "government is reactive" (e.g., disaster relief), "hard work is the answer," "government is a give-away to [undeserving] 'others.'" But when these same people were reminded about government systems and structures like school busses, plowed roads, publicly supported infrastructure, FDIC insurance of our bank accounts, Medicare, Social Security, etc., their comments became very positive. Their initial responses reflect our default understanding of government and the economy that government is to blame for all failures--even though most of the time the systems of government work, and we take them for granted. (http://www.publicworks.org and http://FairEconomy.org )

At this conference, we were able to look past the obvious forms of racism, sexism, and other divisive class practices and identify the subtle, more pervasive institutional forms of racism--our deeply held, unexamined assumptions that do not acknowledge the privileges of one group that are not available to another group (e.g., that women earn less than men for the same work; that when the economy collapsed, the hardship fell harder on people of color than on white families). We listened with open hearts to each other's stories, felt compassion, and, standing in each other's shoes, saw our commonalities. We laughed and sang together, were inspired and moved by the performances of Climbing PoeTree (http://www.climbingpoetree.com/video/when-the-last-tree-stands-alone/ ).

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A social entrepreneur, Marguerite Chandler has founded more than ten non-profit organizations including the Food Bank Network of Somerset County, the Heritage Trail Association, the PeopleCare Center, Crossroads of the American Revolution, (more...)
 

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