During the past week, several hundred people met in Sonoma with ambitious aspirations of radical economic change. The most popular topic of the conference was currencies: community currencies, business to business mutual credit systems, and the state of California issuing currency as its own bank (like North Dakota). This gave me confidence that my work with Bay Area Community Exchange is not just a pie in the sky and that it may be one of the most important, if not the most important, keys to shifting the economic power structure. Financing mechanisms for alternative economic projects and worker cooperatives were also prominent in the discussions.
Being immersed in currency research for the past year, most of the ideas were not new to me. Also, over a much longer time, I'd already come to understand most of the ideas about the economy in general that the keynote speakers were advocating so it's hard for me to give a good representation to the general reader of new sparkling ideas. To me there weren't many. Though the newcomer to alternative economics may have thought the conference mind-blowing. These were some common themes: there is no peace without economic justice; the power to control the economy must be returned to the people at the most local levels possible; our relationships, the Earth and our values must come before profit; debt is slavery and so the monetary and credit systems we have are modern forms of slavery.
However, there was one presentation that caught my attention, though not related to currencies. It was from the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain. The representatives described their elaborate cooperative structure of organizing their economy, which included not just worker cooperative businesses but also consumers, a school and a bank. Varying levels of democratic councils engaged in cooperative decision making with amazing attention to more engaged participation, equitable wealth sharing, and shared decision-making in the planning of their economy. The MCC does not represent the full spectrum of economic activity in the Basque region, only worker cooperatives and relies heavily on high tech exports for income, which was somewhat disappointing.
What struck me was the incredible amount of attention to cooperative planning. What if there was a similar organization in the Bay Area organizing the regional economy?
I can imagine popular management of the regional economy through an elaborate structure of democratic participation from all sectors of the economy, including small business and banks, local industry, municipal governments, and citizen/nonprofit representation as well as adequate geographical and economic status representation. This organization could work together to plan new currency platforms, local "stock exchanges", credit unions, government procurement policies and services provisions, import replacement, land management for common good, appropriate job training with an emphasis on worker cooperatives, slow money local investment plans with popular oversight, sharing infrastructure (like tools lending libraries, car shares, bike shares, timebanks) and so on.
This seems like a lot of work I know, but as it stands as the economy slides further and further down, economic innovation is taking place. What is missing is vision, assessment, planning, transparency, participation, and feedback by the general public. Right now the innovators and tried and true old school alternative institutions are doing their best on their own, without much popular input, and without inter-collaboration. One of the aims of Bay Area Community Exchange is to start this collaboration within the currency innovation sector, but the currencies are only as strong as the rest of the real economy. Currencies are tools of facilitation, but cannot stand alone.
JASecon, which put on the first Festival of Grassroots Economics in Oakland last month, I believe was a starting point for this dialogue. So where do we go from here?
Portland apparently did a kind of community visioning and assessment process.
Here, we could facilitate a similar survey and/or public dialogue to ask important foundational questions:
-what do we want our economy to look like?
-what purpose should it serve?
-what are our common values, goals, and needs?
-is our current economy meeting those values, goals and needs?
-how can we move towards them by improving and creating new tools, structures, organizations and rules or laws?
-how will we measure our movement towards them?
-who is being underserved and who is underparticipating and why?
-what are our under and overtapped resources?
-which sectors in what proportion of the economy are lacking for a (bio)regional self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable economy?
-how can we start investing in our people, local businesses, and local economic infrastructure to retain and create more wealth, energy and intelligence in our communities?
-what do we need to do to create greater economic equality and security for all?
-how can we reshape our economy for cooperation, peace and care of the Earth?
-how can we create an economy that fosters relationships rather than alienation?
-how can people become more active participants in the discussions regarding their economic futures?
-how can different sectors of the new economy collaborate to create more potent synergies?
-what are the fulcrum points?
This would be a great first project of JASecon or else a new Bay Area popular economic governance organization. This organization wouldn't need the force of law behind its decisions since it would bring forth the voice of the people, which is more powerful in many cases and potentially less vulnerable to corruption if designed properly.
Our highly dysfunctional economy has and now even the new economy is moving forward without enough deliberation, consciousness, collaboration and popular participation. Isolated ad hoc experiments are just not enough. We may be running out of time. I think it's time we got organized and design the new economy together.