Sunday, January 31, 2010

Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace

Michael H. Shuman
Posted: January 25, 2010 05:08 PM
From the Huffington Post

It's time to connect the headlines between persistent unemployment in the United States and growing food insecurity. The next Obama stimulus package should focus on how local food can address both simultaneously.

A study done two years ago found that a 20% shift of retail food spending in Detroit redirected to locally grown foods would create 5,000 jobs and increase local output by half a billion dollars. A similar shift to Detroit-grown food by those living in the five surrounding counties would create 35,000 jobs - far more than ever will come out of the multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry. The experience of microenterprise organizations around the country suggests that each of these jobs can be created for $2,000-3,000 of public money--a tiny fraction of the price of the last stimulus.

To some skeptics, locavorism is a cute hobby only embraced by Prius-driving environmentalists in rich countries. Libertarians like those at the Cato Institute argue that the best way to localize is to open Walmarts in every community. Progressives like Peter Singer of Princeton University ask, "If you're living in a prosperous part of the United States, what's really ethical about supporting the economy around you rather than, say, buying fairly traded produce from Bangladesh, where you might be supporting smaller, poorer farmers who need a market for their goods?"

What these critics fail to appreciate is that there are a growing number of profitable and competitive locally owned food businesses, here and abroad, that provide exciting models for communities becoming more food secure. A multi-year study my colleagues at BALLE and at the Wallace Center at Winrock International and I just completed on 24 exemplary "community food enterprises" (CFEs) -- locally owned food related businesses -- came to five surprising conclusions about local food and its economic potential (examined in more detail at a pair of upcoming DC-area and online panel discussions on the CFE study):

* Local food is not just about the proximity of production and short supply chains. Equally important is local ownership of the enterprises involved, which stimulates local income, wealth, jobs, taxes, charitable contributions, tourism, and entrepreneurship. Restaurants like the White Dog Café in Philadelphia draw customers in part by highlighting their business relationships to nearby farmers and other food suppliers. Part of what draws Americans to local food is its stimulus effect. Every dollar spent at a locally owned food grocer, for example, probably contributes two to four times as many economic benefits as does a non-locally owned food business like a Walmart Supercenter.

* Community food enterprises are deploying more than a dozen interesting strategies for competing effectively against multinational enterprise. Many CFEs take characteristics that were once regarded as liabilities, such as limited capital or a dedication to high social standards, and turn them into competitive assets. The Weaver Street Market in Research Triangle, North Carolina, is a consumer cooperative whose members are motivated to buy from the store - because of profit sharing - even when other groceries have nominally cheaper prices. Zingerman's Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has become an economic powerhouse - now employing 535 people and achieving sales of30 million per year - by creating new local businesses around inputs to the deli (like bread and cheese) and around outputs from the deli (like selling the food in a sit-down restaurant called the Roadhouse).

* One way CFEs have become more competitive is through scale. Local does not necessary mean small. For example, Organic Valley , a producer cooperative that distributes organic foodstuffs via regionally owned and operated networks, involves 1,300 farmers and operates in nearly all 50 U.S. states. Many CFEs also export only once they've met local demand, such as Cargills in Sri Lanka, a family-owned company that connects - through food processing, manufacturing, and distribution -- 10,000 farmers on the island with their grocery chain, is now reaching out globally.

* CFEs are in operation on every continent - including the developing world. For instance, in Zambia, an enterprising woman named Sylvia Banda is promoting the virtues of local eating and cooking in her own television show, a catering business, and small-business training center. In Paraguay, the Financially Self-Sufficient Organic Farm School, based in a rural region of Villa Hayes, teaches CFE entrepreneurship to low-income high school students through local enterprises that defray the costs of running the school.

* Economic developers, both in the U.S. and internationally, would be wise to give CFEs greater priority as vehicles for creating new jobs and enhancing local food security.

Local food, by the way, also increasingly means cheaper food. Few economists appreciate how inefficient traditional global food production has become. Some 73 cents of every U.S. dollar spent on food goes to distribution, including advertising, trucking, packaging, refrigeration, middle people, and so forth. Seven cents goes to the farmer. A local food business, like the Oklahoma Food Cooperative we studied, has reduced distribution costs to 20 cents on the dollar, which means lower prices for consumers and more income for farmers.

This is also why local food is important globally. The worst way to help poor Bangladeshi farmers to get out of poverty is to continue buying their produce, since even under fair trade standards maybe a penny or so of every food-sale dollar reaches them. It's far better for Americans to help Bangladesh residents become more self-reliant on food by sharing our best models of CFEs (and their sharing their best models with us) to encourage local ownership of economic stimulating local food businesses. Plus, the community wealth generated by greater food self-reliance will give us more purchasing power to buy those items, like coffee or bananas, that only can be grown in the global south. Spreading CFE models in the name of creating jobs and food security everywhere is the kind globalization all of us can embrace.

Michael Shuman is the research director for the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), author of The SmallMart Revolution and lead author of Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace, published by the Wallace Center at Winrock International. The Wallace Center will be a hosting a pair of panel discussions on CFEs this Thursday in Washington, DC and broadcast live online; for more information, please visit:

10 Ways to Stop Corporate Dominance of Politics

YES! Magazine / By Fran Korten

It's not too late to limit or reverse the impact of the Supreme Court's disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Here's how.
January 28, 2010 |

The recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in politics just may be the straw that breaks the plutocracy’s back.

Pro-democracy groups, business leaders, and elected representatives are proposing mechanisms to prevent or counter the millions of dollars that corporations can now draw from their treasuries to push for government action favorable to their bottom line. The outrage ignited by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission extends to President Obama, who has promised that repairing the damage will be a priority for his administration.

But what can be done to limit or reverse the effect of the Court’s decision? Here are 10 ideas:

1. Amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations are not persons and do not have the rights of human beings. Since the First Amendment case for corporate spending as a free speech right rests on corporations being considered “persons,” the proposed amendment would strike at the core of the ruling’s justification. The push for the 28th Amendment is coming from the grassroots, where a prairie fire is catching on from groups such as Public Citizen, Voter Action, and the Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
2. Require shareholders to approve political spending by their corporations. Public Citizen and the Brennan Center for Justice are among the groups advocating this measure, and some members of Congress appear interested. Britain has required such shareholder approval since 2000.
3. Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which provides federal financing for Congressional elections. This measure has the backing of organizations representing millions of Americans, including, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union, and the League of Young Voters. Interestingly, the heads of a number of major corporations have also signed on, including those of Ben & Jerry’s, Hasbro, Crate & Barrel, and the former head of Delta Airlines.
4. Give qualified candidates equal amounts of free broadcast air time for political messages. This would limit the advantages of paid advertisements in reaching the public through television where most political spending goes.
5. Ban political advertising by corporations that receive government money, hire lobbyists, or collect most of their revenue abroad. A fear that many observers have noted is that the Court’s ruling will allow foreign corporations to influence U.S. elections. According to The New York Times, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) are exploring this option.
6. Impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns. Representative Alan Grayson (D-Florida) proposes this, calling it "The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act."
7. Prohibit companies from trading their stock on national exchanges if they make political contributions and expenditures. Another one from Grayson, which he calls "The Public Company Responsibility Act."
8. Require publicly traded companies to disclose in SEC filings money used for the purpose of influencing public opinion, rather than for promoting their products. Grayson calls this "The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act."
9. Require the corporate CEO to appear as sponsor of commercials that his or her company pays for, another possibility from the Schumer-Van Hollen team, according to The New York Times
10. Publicize the reform options, inform the public of who is making contributions to whom, and activate the citizenry. If we are to safeguard our democracy, media must inform and citizens must act.

The measures listed above—and others that seek to reverse the dominance of money in our political system—will not be easy. But grassroots anger at this latest win for corporate power is running high. History shows that when the public is sufficiently aroused, actions that once seemed impossible can, in hindsight, seem inevitable.

Fran Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Other Economies are Possible: Organizing toward an economy of cooperation and solidarity

By Ethan Miller

Can thousands of diverse, locally-rooted, grassroots economic projects form the basis for a viable democratic alternative to capitalism? It might seem unlikely that a motley array of initiatives such as worker, consumer, and housing cooperatives, community currencies, urban gardens, fair trade organizations, intentional communities, and neighborhood self-help associations could hold a candle to the capitalist economy. Could a process of horizontal networking, linking diverse democratic alternatives and social change organizations together in webs of mutual recognition and support, generate a social movement and economic vision capable of challenging the global capitalist order?

To these questions, economic activists around the world organizing under the banner of economía solidaria, or "solidarity economy," would answer a resounding "yes." It is precisely these innovative, bottom-up experiences of production, exchange, and consumption that are building the foundation for what many people are calling "new cultures and economies of solidarity."


The idea and practice of "solidarity economics" emerged in Latin America in the mid-1980s and blossomed in the mid to late 1990s as a convergence of at least three social trends. First, the economic exclusion experienced by growing segments of society generated by deepening debt and the ensuing structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), forced many communities to develop and strengthen creative, autonomous, and locally-rooted ways of meeting basic needs. These included initiatives such as worker and producer cooperatives, neighborhood and community associations, savings and credit associations, collective kitchens, and unemployed or landless worker mutual-aid organizations.

Second, growing dissatisfaction with the culture of the dominant market economy led groups of more economically privileged people to seek new ways of generating livelihoods and providing services. From largely a middle-class "counter-culture"—similar to that in the United States since the 1960s—emerged projects such as consumer cooperatives, cooperative childcare and health care initiatives, housing cooperatives, intentional communities, and ecovillages. There were often significant class and cultural differences between these two groups. Nevertheless, the initiatives they generated all shared a common set of operative values: cooperation, autonomy from centralized authorities, and participatory self-management by their members.

A third trend worked to link the two grassroots upsurges of economic solidarity to each other and to the larger socioeconomic context: emerging local and regional movements were beginning to forge global connections in opposition to the forces of neoliberal and neocolonial globalization. Seeking a democratic alternative to both capitalist globalization and state socialism, these movements identified community-based economic projects as key elements of alternative social organization.

At the First Latin Encuentro of Solidarity Culture and Socioeconomy held in 1998 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participants from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia, and Spain created the latinoamericana de la economía solidaria (Latin American Solidarity Economy Network). In a statement, the Network declared, "We have observed that our experiences have much in common: a thirst for justice, a logic of participation, creativity, and processes of self-management and autonomy." By linking these shared experiences together in mutual support, they proclaimed, it would be possible to work toward "a socioeconomy of solidarity as a way of life that encompasses the totality of the human being."

Since 1998, this solidarity economy approach has developed into a global movement. The first World Social Forum in 2001 marked the creation of the Global Network of the Solidarity Socioeconomy, fostered in large part by an international working group of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural, and United World. By the time of the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, the Global Network had grown to include 47 national and regional solidarity economy networks from nearly every continent, representing tens of thousands of democratic grassroots economic initiatives worldwide. At a later Social Forum of the America's in Venezuela, solidarity economy topics comprised an estimated one-third of the entire event's program.

Defining Solidarity Economics

But what exactly is this "solidarity economy approach"? For some theorists of the movement, it begins with a redefinition of economic space itself. The dominant neoclassical story paints the economy as a singular space in which market actors (firms or individuals) seek to maximize their gain in a context of scarce resources. These actors play out their profit-seeking dramas on a stage wholly defined by the dynamics of the market and the state. Countering this narrow approach, solidarity economics embraces a plural and cultural view of the economy as a complex space of social relationship in which individuals, communities, and organizations generate livelihoods through many different means and with many different motivations and aspirations—not just the maximization of individual gain. The economic activity validated by neoclassical economists represents, in this view, only a tiny fraction of human efforts to meet needs and fulfill desires.

In expanding what counts as part of "the economy," solidarity economics resonates with other streams of contemporary radical economic thought. Marxist economists such as Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, for example, have suggested that multiple "modes of production" co-exist alongside the capitalist wage-labor mode. Feminist economists have demonstrated how neoclassical conceptions have hidden and devalued basic forms of subsistence and caregiving work that are often done by women. Feminist economic geographer J.K. Gibson-Graham, in her books The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (1998) and A Postcapitalist Politics (2006), synthesizes these and other streams of thought in what she calls the "diverse economies perspective." Addressing concerns that are central to the solidarity economy approach, she asks, "If we viewed the economic landscape as imperfectly colonized, homogenized, systematized, might we not find openings for projects of noncapitalist invention? Might we not find ways to construct different communities and societies, building upon what already exists?"

Indeed, the first task of solidarity economics is to identify existing economic practices—often invisible or marginal to the dominant lens—that foster cooperation, dignity, equity, self-determination, and democracy. Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs.

At the same time, building relationships between solidarity-based enterprises and larger social movements builds increased support for the solidarity economy while allowing the movements to meet some of the basic needs of their participants, demonstrate viable alternatives, and thus increase the power and scope of their transformative work. In Brazil, this dynamic is demonstrated by the Landless Workers Movement (MST). As a broad, popular movement for economic justice and agrarian reform, the MST has built a powerful program combining social and political action with cooperative, solidarity-based economics. From the establishment of democratic, cooperative settlements on land re-appropriated from wealthy absentee landlords to the development of nationwide, inter-settlement exchanges of products and services, networks of economic solidarity are contributing significantly to the sustenance of more than 300,000 families—over a million people. The Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum, of which the MST is a part, works on an even broader scale, incorporating 12 national networks and membership organizations with 21 regional Solidarity Forums and thousands of cooperative enterprises to build mutual support systems, facilitate exchanges, create cooperative incubator programs, and shape public policy.

Building a Movement

With the exception of the Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural, a U.S.-Mexico cross-border agricultural solidarity organization, the United States has been nearly absent from global conversations about solidarity economics. Maybe it's harder for those in the "belly of the beast" to imagine that alternatives to capitalism are possible. Are alternative economic practices somehow rendered more invisible, or more isolated, in the United States than in other parts of the world? Are there simply fewer solidarity-based initiatives with which to network?

Perhaps. But things are changing. A new wave of grassroots economic organizing is cultivating the next generation of worker cooperatives, community currency initiatives, housing cooperatives and collectives, community garden projects, fair trade campaigns, community land trusts, anarchist bookstores ("infoshops"), and community centers. Groups working on similar projects are making connections with each other.

It takes no great stretch of the imagination to picture, within the next ten years, a "U.S. Solidarity Economy Summit" convening many of the thousands of democratic, grassroots economic projects in the United States to generate a stronger shared identity, build relationships, and lay the groundwork for a U.S. Solidarity Economy Alliance. In the words of Argentinian economist and organizer Jose Luis Corragio, "the viability of social transformation is rarely a fact; it is, rather, something that must be constructed." This is a call to action.

Ethan Miller is a writer, musician, subsistence farmer, and organizer.
This article is from the July/August 2006 issue of Dollars & Sense.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Community Rights Vs. Corporate Rights

Many mice will tie down the lion...

Reposted from Global Exchange Community Rights Program

In your community, who decides if corporations can pollute or drive local business out?

Global Exchange drives the movement for community rights in California!

The biggest threat posed by corporations is not the illegal stuff of headlines. The real danger is what they are empowered to do legally, every day, in every community across the country. From water withdrawal to polluting refineries, toxic sludge spreading, GMOs and more, the corporate few wield the law against our communities, endangering our health, safety and the environment.

State and federal law says that corporations don't need community permission to drop pesticides overhead, or to site a toxic dump next to the school grounds. So who does decide? State agencies issue corporations "permits" and state legislatures routinely "preempt" (usurp) community lawmaking authority on behalf of those corporations. When corporate executives decide to site an unwanted project in our communities, we are told we cannot say "no," because that would be a violation of the corporation's Constitutional rights.

So what do we do instead? For nearly two generations, community organizing has taken a detour. Instead of rallying people to assert our rights to truly govern in the places where we live—and demanding what we really want—we settle for "mitigating"—or regulating—the corporate assaults that enter our communities. Ostensibly, the regulatory system is supposed to protect people and the planet from destruction, but typically it is the industry to be regulated that sets the standards. Like gambling in a casino, we're playing by the House's rules. Even when we "win" we don't get what we want, we can only hope to lessen the damage.

It is time to change the rules to ensure that the people who must bear the effects of policy decisions are the only ones who make them. It is time to assert our rights as communities to define the kinds of places we want to live.

People in Santa Cruz contacted us to see what could be done to stop the State's plan to drop pesticides from airplanes to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth. We had some surprising answers for them. "Stop begging the legislature," we said. "and stop demanding the enforcement of regulatory laws. You don't want to limit the damage, you want to stop it—so stop it!" Global Exchange helped draft a cutting-edge local ordinance that asserts the rights of the community to make the decisions about pesticide spraying, and protects residents from chemical trespass. It also strips corporations of Constitutional protections that had allowed the forced spraying of the community.

In Mt. Shasta citizens want to stop corporate weather manipulation (cloud seeding) and they don't want their aquifer drained by water bottlers either. We helped them craft an ordinance to protect natural water cycles and the community's right to water that they hope to pass into law this year—making them the first municipality in California to pass a rights based ordinance. But they are not alone. In Ukiah, citizens are looking to assert their rights to keep corporations out of their local elections process. In Nevada City, folks are asking us to help them protect their fragile watershed from various assaults. And more calls come in every day.

All of these communities are seeking to take control of their local destinies and to subordinate corporations to local democratic control. In so doing they link arms with over 120 communities in four states that have stopped working defensively against corporate harms and taken courageous action to assert their rights where they live.

Read updates from these California community actions.

Farmers' markets, coops and repair shops will seed the new economy

26th January, 2010
Tim Jackson
The Ecologist

It's called the 'Cinderella economy'. You know it as the local, sustainable businesses that don't make the GDP figures soar, but do provide jobs and glue communities together...

Society is faced with a profound dilemma. To resist growth is to risk economic and social collapse. To pursue it relentlessly is to endanger the ecosystems on which we depend for long-term survival.

For the most part, this dilemma goes unrecognised in mainstream policy. It’s only marginally more visible as a public debate.

When reality begins to impinge on the collective consciousness, the best suggestion to hand is that we can somehow ‘decouple’ growth from its material impacts. And continue to do so while the economy expands exponentially.

The sheer scale of action implied by this is daunting. In a world of 9 billion people all aspiring to western lifestyles, the carbon intensity of every dollar of output must be at least 130 times lower in 2050 than it is today. By the end of the century, economic activity will need to be taking carbon out of the atmosphere not adding to it.

Never mind that no one knows what such an economy looks like. Never mind that decoupling isn’t happening at anything like that scale. Never mind that all our institutions and incentive structures continually point in the wrong direction. The dilemma, once recognised, looms so dangerously over our future that we are desperate to believe in miracles. Technology will save us. Capitalism is good at technology. So let’s just keep the show on the road and hope for the best.

No surprise then, that the response to the recession was a ubiquitous call to re-invigorate consumer spending and kick start growth. Those inclined to question the consensus were swiftly denounced as cynical revolutionaries or modern day luddites. ‘We do not agree with the anti-capitalists who see the economic crisis as a chance to impose their utopia, whether of a socialist or eco-fundamentalist kind,’ roared the Independent on Sunday late in 2008. ‘Most of us in this country enjoy long and fulfilling lives thanks to liberal capitalism: we have no desire to live in a yurt under a workers' soviet.’

With that confusingly-attired bogey-man looming over us, kick-starting growth looked like a no-brainer. And the closest we got to doing anything other than business as usual was the possibility that somehow out of the crisis we might create a ‘different engine of growth’ as Achim Steiner from the UN Environment Programme called it. 'Green growth' became the holy grail of economic recovery.

Similar proposals had been voiced for some years by ecological economists. Pointing out that ‘ever greater consumption of resources is [in itself] a driver of growth’ in the current paradigm, Robert Ayres argues that ‘in effect, a new growth engine is needed, based on non-polluting energy sources and selling non-material services, not polluting products’.

This idea is still essentially an appeal to decoupling. Growth continues, while resource intensity (and hopefully throughput)declines. But here at least is something in the way of a blueprint for what such an economy might look like. It gives us more of a sense of what people are buying and what businesses are selling in this new economy. Its founding concept is the production and sale of de-materialised ‘services’, rather than material ‘products’.

Clearly this can’t just be the ‘service-based economies’ that have characterised certain Western development over the last few decades. For the most part those have been achieved by reducing heavy manufacturing, continuing to import consumption goods from abroad and expanding financial services to pay for them.

So what exactly constitutes productive economic activity in this new economy? Selling ‘energy services’, certainly, rather than energy supplies. Selling mobility rather than cars. Recycling, re-using, leasing, maybe. Yoga lessons, perhaps, hairdressing, gardening: so long as these aren’t carried out using buildings, don’t involve the latest fashion and you don’t need a car to get to them. The humble broom would need to be preferred to the diabolical ‘leaf-blower’, for instance.

The fundamental question is this: can you really make enough money from these activities to keep an economy growing? And the truth is we just don’t know. We have never at any point in history lived in such an economy. It sounds at the moment suspiciously like something the Independent on Sunday would instantly dismiss as a yurt-based economy – with increasingly expensive yurts.

But this doesn’t mean we should throw away the underlying vision completely. Whatever the new economy looks like, low-carbon economic activities that employ people in ways that contribute meaningfully to human flourishing have to be the basis for it. That much is clear.

So rather than starting from the assumption of growth, perhaps we should start by identifying what we want a sustainable economy to look and behave like. Clearly, some form of stability – or resilience – matters. Economies which collapse threaten human flourishing immediately. We know that equality matters. Unequal societies drive unproductive status competition and undermine wellbeing not only directly but also by eroding our sense of shared citizenship.

Work – and not just paid employment – still matters in this new economy. It’s vital for all sorts of reasons. Apart from the obvious contribution of paid employment to people’s livelihoods, work is a part of our participation in the life of society. Through work we create and recreate the social world and find a credible place in it.

Perhaps most vital of all, economic activity must remain ecologically-bounded. The limits of a finite planet need to be coded directly into its working principles. The valuation of ecosystem services, the greening of the national accounts, the identification of an ecologically-bounded production function: all of these are likely to be essential to the development of a sustainable economic framework.

And at the local level, it’s possible to identify some simple operational principles that these new economic activities need to fulfill. Let’s call these activities 'ecological enterprises' if they satisfy three simple criteria:

• they contribute positively to human flourishing;

• they support community and provide decent livelihoods;

• they use as little as possible in the way of materials and energy.

Notice that it isn’t just the outputs from economic activity that must make a positive contribution to flourishing. It’s the form and organisation of our systems of provision as well. Ecological enterprise needs to work with the grain of community and the long-term social good, rather than against it.

Interestingly, ecological enterprise has a kind of forerunner. The seeds for the new economy already exist in local, community-based social enterprise: community energy projects, local farmers' markets, slow food cooperatives, sports clubs, libraries, community health and fitness centres, local repair and maintenance services, craft workshops, writing centres, watersports, community music and drama, local training and skills. And yes, maybe even yoga (or martial arts or meditation), hairdressing, and gardening.

People often achieve a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfillment, both as producers and as consumers of these activities, than they ever do from the time-poor, materialistic, supermarket economy in which most of our lives are spent. So it’s ironic that these community-based social enterprises barely count in today’s economy. They represent a kind of Cinderella economy that sits neglected at the margins of consumer society.

Some of them scarcely even register as economic activities in a formal sense at all. They sometimes employ people on a part-time or even voluntary basis. Their activities are often labour intensive. So if they contribute anything at all to GDP, their labour productivity growth is of course ‘dismal’ – in the language of the dismal science. If we start shifting wholesale to patterns of de-materialised services, we wouldn’t immediately bring the economy to a standstill, but we’d certainly slow down growth considerably.

We’re getting perilously close here to the lunacy at the heart of the growth-obsessed, resource-intensive, consumer economy. Here is a sector that could provide meaningful work, offer people capabilities for flourishing, contribute positively to community and have a decent chance of being materially light. And yet it’s denigrated as worthless because it’s actually employing people. This response shows up the fetish with labour productivity for what it is: a recipe for undermining work, community and environment. Of course, labour productivity improvements aren’t always bad. There are clearly places where it makes sense to substitute away from human labour, especially where the working experience itself is poor. But the idea that labour input is always and necessarily something to be minimised goes against common sense.

In fact, there’s a very good reason why de-materialised services don’t lead to productivity growth. It’s because for many of them it’s the human input to them that constitutes the value in them. The pursuit of labour productivity in activities whose integrity depends on human interaction systematically undermines the quality of the output.

Besides all that, work itself is one of the ways in which humans participate meaningfully in society. Reducing our ability to do that – or reducing the quality of our experience in doing so – is a direct hit on flourishing. Relentless pursuit of labour productivity in these circumstances makes absolutely no sense.

So in summary, it seems that those calling for a new engine of growth based around dematerialised services are really onto something. But they may perhaps have missed a vital point. The idea that an increasingly serviced-based economy can (or should) provide for ever-increasing economic output doesn’t quite stack up.

On the other hand, we’ve made some clear progress here. The Cinderella economy really does offer a kind of blueprint for a different kind of society. New, ecological enterprises provide capabilities for flourishing. They offer the means to a livelihood and to participation in the life of society. They provide security, a sense of belonging, the ability to share in a common endeavour and yet to pursue our potential as individual human beings. And at the same time they offer a decent chance of remaining within ecological scale. The next economy really does mean inviting Cinderella to the ball.

Tim Jackson is economics commissioner on the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), and professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey. His book, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (£12.99) is published by Earthscan.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bay Area Community Exchange Receives $60 Billion Anonymous Donation

In an amazing stroke of luck, Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE), received $60 billion in the form of an anonymous donation. Bay Area Community Exchange helps develop alternative currencies and educates the public about the economy and alternatives to the centralized monetary system in the San Francisco Bay Area. BACE did an end of year fundraising pitch, but “this was completely out of the blue,” said BACE’s coordinator, Mira Luna.

“The only thing I can think of is that the Gates Foundation had a change of heart after reading an earlier article in my blog, Trust is the Only Currency.” Luna mentioned in a piece entitled “All Power to the People: Changing the Economic Power Structure” that “Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world, is donating money to help eradicate infectious disease in Africa. I am all for helping out Africa, but I question whether or not Bill Gates, a privileged white man from the USA, is the best person to be deciding the fate of Africa. And this is not wealth redistribution, it is funding specific charitable organizations handpicked by the Gates Foundation.” Luna thinks perhaps Gates might have had an epiphany during a rumored DMT trip at Burning Man that made him realize wealth should be more equally and democratically distributed.

However, the total assets of the Gates Foundation are only approximately $35 billion so where would the other $25 billion come from? Perhaps Gates spun Ellen Brown’s idea and decided to create his own Gates state bank with Gates money, which everyone would likely accept anyway since the Gates Foundation has more money than over 120 countries or at least had until the donation. Wait the Gates don’t have their own government yet?! Well, we are certainly going to investigate where the money came from. There are laws about these sorts of things...or so we hope.

BACE is trying to decide whether or not to accept the donation and use it to fund the development of thousands of local currency projects across the globe since you don’t really actually need much money to create a local currency, you just make your own money. That’s the whole point!

(Editor's Note: The above story is fictional in case you are a lawyer for the Gates Foundation.)

Austin's New Cooperative Development Center

Austin joins Cleveland (Evergreen Worker Cooperatives), Bay Area (Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives) and New York (Green Worker Cooperatives) in worker cooperative development.

Third Coast Workers for Cooperation

Third Coast Workers Cooperative (TCWC) is an new cooperative development center in Austin that works with low-income communities to help them produce their own environmentally friendly, worker-owned businesses.

TCWC houses the Co-operative Business Institute (CBI), which is a comprehensive, 16-week, training program. The program is designed to teach prospective co-ops the worker cooperative model, the green economy, and the legal, organizational and business aspects specific to cooperatives. The following eight months consists of technical support to help launch the new cooperative business.
Ultimate Goal

The ultimate goal is to empower low-income communities to create a network of worker-owned green businesses throughout Austin-combating the economic crisis and environmental concerns.
How it Works?

TCWC works directly with individuals and community based organizations to help members set up their own worker cooperative.

What is a worker co-op?
A worker cooperative is a business that is owned and controlled by the people who work there. Worker cooperatives can be found in a range of industries across the country and across the world–from restaurants in New York City to manufacturing plants in Argentina. In a worker cooperative, decisions are made democratically by the workers themselves and profits are shared equally.

Worker cooperatives offer a powerful alternative to conventional businesses. Instead of being driven solely by profits, worker cooperatives often have a “triple bottom line,” measuring success not simply by the money they earn, but by the well-being of their workers; their sustainability as a business; and their overall contribution to the community and the environment. Worker co-ops also tend to create:

* Long-term, stable jobs
* Higher wages
* Personal and professional development opportunities
* Deeper connection to the local community

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Damanhur Economics

A description of how a 34-year old ecovillage in Italy runs its economic system:

The Damanhurian economic system blends free enterprise with solidarity and communal sharing, with the objective of creating the most advantages and wealth possible at an individual and collective level. This “richness” is expressed in houses and land, schools and services, art and gardens, forests and meeting spaces, health and wellness, as well as a sense of belonging and security, and attention for the individual, from an economic and human point of view. This quality of life rivitalizes the Damanhurian territories, and in addition to the citizens of the Federation, everyone can enjoy the services and activities that exist here.

No, this formula is the fruit of more than thirty years of experience, during which we have experimented with many different systems. At the beginning, the economic sharing was absolute, to allow us to build the first community structures. Over time, the system has evolved, until it has become what we are describing here. Many people appreciate the Damanhurian economic system because it combines the best of two opposing economic doctrines: liberalism and socialism.

Many citizens of the Federation have created cooperatives and businesses over the years, offering their products and services for economic compensation, in a way that is completely autonomous and respectful of the Italian law. Other individuals are self-employed professionals paid for their services, and still others work for Italian businesses. All the Damanhurian inhabitants, no matter what their source of income, directly manage their own money.

Sometimes, those who have responsibilities and roles that are socially useful, such as assisting senior citizens, taking care of the home, studying at a university, etc. they are sustained by the community.

Full time resident citizens live in houses constructed according to the criteria of energetic auto-sufficiency and ecological construction. The communities are composed of many nucleo families, of individuals and people of all ages. Damanhurians select where they live based on affinity and shared projects. These social groups are commonly called “nucleo communities” and they are usually comprised of about twenty people. Each Damanhurian has his or her own private space and shares the common areas with others, like the kitchen, meeting spaces, gardens, etc. All the choices made by the nucleo, including economic ones, are discussed and shared by its members. The various expenses related to house management – maintenance, heating, nutrition, investments in renewable energy, etc. are divided based on each person’s individual ability.
If people in the nucleo do not produce a direct income for various reasons – because they are studying or have health or employment difficulties – they are economically sustained by the members of the nucleo community. In the case that more than one person at the same time is unable to produce income, and the family is not able to economically provide for everyone’s needs, they may rely on the sustenance of other communities.

Every citizen sustains projects that have a wide scope, based on personal desire and one’s economic ability. For example, projects may involve acquiring new land and buildings, safeguarding the environment, supporting educational programs, creating artistic works on the territories, assisting volunteer associations, supporting research and experimentation in many fields, etc.
The communal sharing of choices and investments occurs during assembly meetings in which every citizen is involved. Every form of contribution that the citizens offer may assume the form of liberality and/or capital shares.

Resident citizens offer part of their time for community activities and socially useful services like the Red Cross – blood donation, emergency calls, etc. – Civil Protection, prevention of forest fires, and assisting the elderly. There are more than 250 Damanhurian volunteers who participate in public associations in the area.

Based on one’s personal preference, each citizen can also choose an association to support to develop an enjoyable activity. In fact, there are associations that offer diverse activities, ranging from teaching art and antique trades to cultural and recreational activities, to health and wellness, etc.
Many works on the territory – reclaimed land, retraining, etc. – were realized with everyone’s participation. Voluntary work is a valuable commonwealth that serves others and society as a whole, a practical instrument used to elevate the general quality of life.

Damanhurian houses and territories are owned by cooperatives with a wide social base, in which the citizens subscribe to with capital shares. If a citizen decides to leave the community, he or she may withdraw the monetary value of the shares conferred.
Choosing to keep houses and land in common ownership comes from the desire to protect collective property. This system allows the ideals and the conquests of Damanhur to be bestowed upon those who move forward with this dream in the future, whether it is the children or new citizens.
Every community resides in a territory that may be comprised of one or more habitations where family groups live. The inhabitants enjoy the benefits of the improvements made by citizens who lived there before them, and in their time, they make modifications that increase the quality of the property.

No, there are different levels of citizenship – A, B, C, D, etc. – that may be chosen by whomever would like to become involved in Damanhur. Each one of these levels requires a different participation in the social life of Damanhur and the various aspects of communal sharing.
When a person decides to become a full time resident citizen, and to completely adhere to the social experimentation – level A – he or she does not need to give everything he possesses to the community.
Personal goods, such as cars, furniture, computers and technology, etc. remain personal property, and also everything that is connected to one’s personal work activity. Capital and/or landholdings can be invested in activities of personal or common interest, and the choice is always based on the free will of the individual, in concordance with representatives elected by the citizenship.

In technical terms, the Credito is a system of complementary currency (today, coined in metal) used by Damanhurians and diverse economic activities that have agreed to take part in the system. It was created more than thirty years ago to support the development of the economy and the starting of small businesses, and today, it has grown to represent a solid and productive economic reality in the Canavese area.
The Credito is legally and fiscally regulated, and its value is equal to that of the Euro.

In the Damanhurian territories, there are many machines that change Euro to Crediti, just as in any moment, it is possible to exchange Crediti for Euro.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT DES? (Damanhur Economia Solidale – Damanhur Joint Liability Economy)
For many years, we have had a group finance company that has promoted the DES project. Through the group finance company, cooperatives structured to obtain social loans can receive contributions from members through deposit books (both free and time-deposited). The interest returned to depositors ranges from 1.5% to 2.5%, depending on the terms. This project offers depositors the security that their own money is being allocated to ethical activities. Through the finance company, funds may be allotted to associations, cooperatives, or mutual societies. These legal entities receive financing that they shall reimburse at an agreed-upon rate.

There are many:

. Every citizen receives incentives and support to open new activities with an entrepreneurial spirit, to learn new professional skills, to develop through education, and to dedicate oneself to useful social services.

. There is a collective wealth at the disposition of individuals in the form of land, goods and services, that may have otherwise been out of reach.

. The principle of solidarity within the community offers support to those who find themselves in health or employment difficulty, to pregnant mothers and parents in general, and to the elderly.

. At times, acquisition groups are formed, regulated by the Financial Law of 2008, to increase the power of acquisition from suppliers and various companies – telephone, insurance, energy, concessionaries, technical and administrative services, etc. For many years, this has allowed individuals to save a significant amount.

. Houses, territories, service structures, etc. are taken care of and constantly improved, and all those who intend to take part in the community in the future may benefit from them.

. The effects of this political economy are reflected in the areas where Damanhurian settlements are found, boosting the surrounding activities. Many people arrive from all over the world and choose to live around Damanhur, even if they do not directly take part in the community life. This also brings economic and cultural wealth to the valley.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mayoral Candidate Runs on Community Currency, Buy Local Platform


Election 2009: Caccamo Sees Solutions in Buying Local
05:20PM / Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayoral candidate Nicholas J. Caccamo says a locally based economy leads to community development and will increase public safety:

Buying local affects our community in three primary ways. A local economy helps stimulate economic growth and stabilize a municipal economy during times of national distress, improves the standard of living for our own residents, friends and neighbors, and helps to foster community development within a municipality.

The economic benefits of a "Buy Berkshires" economy include maintaining job and consumer demand in our own community. An excellent way to support the local economy would be for Pittsfield businesses to join the BerkShares program. The BerkShares project is a local currency program based in Great Barrington. If elected, I would push for more Pittsfield businesses to support the program to ensure that money spent in the Berkshires stays in the Berkshires.

One of the least noticeable, but most beneficial aspects of promoting a locally based economy is the advancement of community development. As individuals become more aware of who they are buying goods and services from, and where those products are coming from, a sense of connection between residents begins to emerge. This connection between consumer and merchant leads to increased unity within a municipality. Economist Richard Layard states "if people are highly mobile, they feel less bonded to the people among whom they live, and crime is more common." We need to make Pittsfield a city where residents form permanent bonds and maintain enduring residence, not just a stopping point.

Furthermore, if elected, I plan to work closely with acting Police Chief Michael Wynn to determine the feasibility of patrol officers "walking the beat" in highly trafficked areas. Working together with the City Council, I will continue to look for and secure grants for additional funding for the Pittsfield Police Department.

Finally, a local economy will improve the standard of living for the citizens of Pittsfield, and help create a tightly knit community. Local businesses will require more support from local labor, thus increasing demand for jobs in the area. A local economy makes the American Dream a more plausible goal for our friends and neighbors, as small-scale production is more viable without the competition from large corporations.

Also, as more residents chose local over global, and small over corporate, Pittsfield will develop a sense of distinctiveness that will generate tourism and foster community development on our streets and neighborhoods.

More information about my plans to help improve the city can be found at my Web site

Submitted by the Campaign to Elected Nicholas J. Caccamo

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Vote for Corporate Personhood and Corrupt Elections

This is not a democracy. To help counter this decision, please see Move to Amend.

Supreme Court ruling a landmark for corporate political cash
By James Vicini James Vicini – 48 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Corporations can spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a landmark decision that allows massive sums to be spent to influence future elections.

The 5-4 ruling split the high court along conservative and liberal lines. It was a defeat for the Obama administration and supporters of campaign finance laws who said that ending the limits would unleash a flood of corporate money into the political system.

The ruling will transform the political landscape and the rules on how money can be spent in this year's congressional election and the 2012 presidential contest.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the limits violated constitutional free-speech rights.

"We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," he wrote.

In his sharply worded dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation."

The justices overturned Supreme Court precedents from 2003 and 1990 that upheld federal and state limits on independent expenditures by corporate treasuries to support or oppose candidates.

"This decision allows Wall Street to tap its vast corporate profits to drown out the voice of the public in our democracy," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar, a group that supports campaign finance limits.


In the 2008 election cycle, nearly $6 billion was spent on all federal campaigns, including more than $1 billion from corporate political action committees, trade associations, executives and lobbyists.

The ruling will almost certainly allow labor unions to spend more freely in political campaigns also and it posed a threat to similar limits that had been imposed in about half of the country's 50 states.

The top court struck down the part of the federal law that restricted broadcast advertisements for or against political candidates right before elections that are paid for by corporations, labor unions and advocacy groups.

The 2002 campaign finance law at issue was named after Senator John McCain, the unsuccessful Republican presidential nominee in 2008, and Democratic Senator Russell Feingold.

The justices appeared at a special Thursday session to summarize the ruling and issued a total of five separate opinions exceeding 175 pages.

The decision was a victory for a conservative advocacy group's challenge to the campaign finance law as part of its efforts to broadcast and promote a 2008 movie critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She later became President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

The Obama administration defended the law and its restrictions on election-related spending by corporations, unions and interest groups. It said corporations for more than 100 years have been subject to special limits on spending in federal political campaign.

The court's conservative majority, with the addition of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both Bush appointees, previously voted to limit or strike down parts of the law designed to regulate the role of money in politics and prevent corruption.

The court's four liberals, including its newest member, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was appointed by Obama, dissented.

(Editing by Howard Goller)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Corporate Personhood Challenged by Supreme Court

Reposted from Democracy Unlimited in Humboldt County, CA

On August 1st Democracy Unlimited filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging “corporate personhood,” the illegitimate and undemocratic legal doctrine which allows courts to overturn democratically elected laws that attempt to control corporate harm and abuse.

Democracy Unlimited joined the Program on Corporations Law & Democracy, the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Shays2: The Western Massachusetts Committee on Corporations & Democracy, and the Clements Foundation in making the legal argument. The brief was drafted and filed by attorney Jeff Clements, who represented all five organizations in the matter.

The groups filed the brief in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, urging the Supreme Court not to overturn laws preventing corporations from making political contributions in federal elections. The amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief argues that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as people. As such, democratically enacted regulations of corporations do not violate the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.

“The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution,” said Clements. “The organizations that joined to bring these arguments to the Court have worked with others for many years to empower democratic self-government. They remind us that corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations need not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and State governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy.”

The Supreme Court is considering overturning federal campaign regulations for corporations, originally enacted in 1907, and may soon overrule previous Supreme Court decisions that have upheld the Constitutionality of legislative restrictions on corporate money in politics.

The case now before the Court began when a tax-exempt non-profit corporation calling itself Citizens United challenged the Constitutionality of a federal ban on expenditures for “electioneering communications” by corporations and labor unions within sixty days of an election. The ban is part of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Under the Act, corporations and labor unions may still contribute to Political Action Committees.

Citizens United argued that the restrictions under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violated the Constitution as applied to the corporation that sought to distribute an anti-Hillary Clinton movie during the 2008 presidential primaries. A panel of three federal district court judges upheld the regulation of corporate expenditures, and agreed that the Federal Election Commission could enforce the law. The District Court relied on a 2003 Supreme Court case, McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), that had ruled that the corporate expenditure regulation did not violate the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court overrules Austin and McConnell, First Amendment rights claimed by corporations will be significantly expanded, and local, state, and federal governments will be further restricted in the ability to regulate corporations and corporate influence on our democratic processes.

The brief filed by Democracy Unlimited argues that corporations are legal entities created by state or federal law for economic, charitable or other purposes, and were never intended to be included within the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The brief also highlights the fact that the doctrine that corporations are “persons” under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment is doubtful, and an activist federal judiciary should not intervene to prevent elected officials from protecting the integrity of the electoral process.

The Supreme Court will hear further argument in the case in September.

A copy of the amicus brief can be read here:

For further information contact:

Jeff Clements, Clements Law Office LLC, 978-287-4901, jclements (at) clementsllc (dot) com

David Cobb, Democracy Unlimited, 707-269-0984, david (at) duhc (dot) org

We're In This Together: Taxes and the Commons
2010:Crash or Comeback for Cities?
By Jay Walljasper

For three nights in November, the art collective Broken City Lab projected a series of messages from Windsor, Ontario that were visible across the border in Detroit. The message: We're all in this together.

The year 2010 may be remembered as a turning point in many American cities, towns, and suburbs.

It could be the moment when citizens say “enough is enough” and rally to save essential public services from the chopping block, even if it means paying higher local taxes.

Or it could be time when deep gashes in funding for parks, libraries, education, public safety, transit, health, and other cornerstones of the common good bring many communities to their knees, ushering in age of reckless privatization and steep decline in quality of life as local governments are unable to provide for the basic needs of their citizens.

John Gurda, a history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, paints a frightening picture of where continuing cuts in public services will lead us: “The day may come when librarians have to leave a key under the doormat at each neighborhood branch, when homicides are reported to a call center in Bangalore, when every household is expected to bury its own garbage and to keep its own fire bucket at the front door.”

He sees his hometown heading “down the road to municipal suicide” as it staggers under huge budget deficits. This fate shared by many, if not most, American communities right now, suburbs and small towns as well as inner cities. Indeed, Gurda notes the budget crisis of Milwaukee County, which delivers essential services to the suburbs as well, is equal to that of the city.

Why is this happening now, months after the stock market hit rock bottom?

Because local governments are funded in large part by property taxes, and the rampant devaluation of real estate coming out of the burst bubble of 2008 is now hitting home at city halls. Local officials are dealing with dramatically reduced tax revenues. And they can’t look to state government for help, because the states have budget crises of their own.

Reflexive anti-tax sentiments, compounded by many people’s shrinking incomes, means that politicians feel little choice but to whack away at crucial public services at precisely the time when citizens’ need for help is spiraling upward. (For more about this, see "The economic crisis through the looking glass.")

Gurda, author of the definitive history The Making of Milwaukee, notes that while this heavily blue-collar city has never been rich, its citizens did enjoy excellent public services through most of the 20th Century.

That was largely the legacy of progressive Socialist Party mayors, who held office for 38 years from 1910 to 1960. Mayor Dan Hoan, whose political vision was “a better, bigger, and brighter Milwaukee” fostered by “the best government possible, and, though not necessarily at a low tax rate, at the lowest cost that can be paid,” understood that taxes could be a burden on working-class citizens, and therefore saw it as his mission to make sure taxpayers got first-rate parks, schools, public services and other healthy returns on their investments.

Unfortunately, taxes are rarely discussed today as part of the common good. Right-wingers scream bloody murder any time a tax increase is even mentioned, stirring up talk radio mobs that equate any form of government action as folly or tyranny, while liberals largely duck the issue out of fear.

It’s high time to reframe the debate about taxes, before the infrastructure and social fabric of our communities starts to deteriorate right before our eyes.

Taxes should be viewed as a commons, a cooperative effort to take care and improve the things that belong to all of us. If you add up the huge contribution that good schools, police protection, parks, public health measures, libraries etc. make in our lives, it’s easy to see that the money we pay in taxes is the best bargain in town.

I hope many more people come to realize this wisdom over the next year, and take action to preserve public services and protect the future of their communities. If not, they may learn this lesson the hard way, as they scramble to find the money for private schools, private security guards, private recreational facilities, doctors’ fees, and private information sources to replace all the services once paid for by their tax dollars.

As John Gurda puts it, “Until ordinary citizens wake up to the reality of their own interests, until public officials find the courage to stop committing civic suicide, we’ll get precisely the government we pay for.”

Postscript: John Gurda reports that, “I’m told by friends on the Common [City] Council that the column was instrumental in rolling back some of the most severe cuts to the library system.”

This piece was originally published in On the Commons, with whom often shares content. The top two images in the body of this piece are by Vanessa Miller; the bottom one is by Claire Kessler-Bradner.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Keep the Economy Underground

Editor's Note: The informal economy is relatively small in the US in relation to its formal economy as compared to less industrialized or "developed" counties. The informal economy is less organized/governed by formal contracts, law, licenses, tax, and use of national currency, and more by relationships, trust, reputation, nonprofit organizations, self-employment, bartering, gifting, and alternative currencies. A large informal network economy provides resiliency in meeting community needs as well as fostering relationships through frequent trading with neighbors. The organization of the formal economy provides some safety in terms of consumer protection and business laws, but generally works against abundant supply of services and goods as well as self-employment and very small business. Also, is it safer to trade with someone you know or to trade with a business that has received a stamp of approval from the system? Perhaps both kinds of economy are needed. For example, energy production is perhaps a good candidate for remaining primarily in the formal economy, as part of a commonly governed entity. However, we could make room for growth of local, organized informal economies to provide much of care-giving needs and some food production.

New York Times
Published: January 16, 2010

The underground economy in places like Haiti is often viewed as a criminal sector, made up of thugs and warlords, that sets back economic growth. But this is a one-sided portrait. Informal trading may be critical for Haiti’s recovery. Citizens in developing countries tend to find creative ways to make ends meet. The sharing of tools and workspaces, collective ownership of property, revolving credit associations and barter systems make up the backbone of the economy.

New customs emerge to settle disputes and enforce contracts. Anyone might be a banker one day (lending small sums of money to others) and a policeman the next (resolving a disagreement between two local traders). This exchange system also brings together diverse groups who learn to interact across religious, ethnic, tribal and other social divides.

During disasters, however, things can turn for the worse, and those with force can take over. Countries now aiding Haiti should ensure that organized crime doesn’t take control of local economies. But they must be careful not to drum out the positives of informal development.

Haitians could benefit from outsiders who help them rebuild the ad hoc relationships that have engendered trust and cooperation. Nongovernmental groups could aid the creation of cooperatives that can be brought into decisions about the distribution of food, medical care and housing in their neighborhoods. We can take a cue from the Grameen “microbank” in South Asia by identifying informal economic leaders with the legitimacy to mobilize others, spread information and coordinate rebuilding efforts.

Sudhir Venkatesh is a professor of sociology at Columbia and author of “Gang Leader for a Day.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

BRAZIL: Solidarity Economy Thriving

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO Jan 15 (IPS) - The initiatives were already
there in the form of cooperatives and a variety of related
activities. But they have a new connectedness thanks to the
growing solidarity economy which has opened up new horizons for
alternative forms of production and social relations.

The Fio Nobre Cooperative founded 15 years ago by Idalina Boni
evolved from craftsmaking to textiles and now produces shirts
blouses t-shirts skirts pants shorts dresses and handbags
as well as accessories like necklaces in Itajaí a port city in
the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.

Once Fio Nobre reached a certain quality level thanks in part
to a fashion designer it began to export its products. The
cooperative already has contacts in Italy and France and in
February Boni will travel to Spain to market its goods.

Before setting up Fio Nobre Boni was active for years in
rural community health and human rights movements based on her
belief in liberation theology a progressive current in the
Catholic Church that works to empower the poor.

When youre young you think you can change the world she
told IPS.

But unemployment forced her to come up with a project that
could bring in an income on which to survive while she continued
her efforts to at least improve the world she said.

That gave rise to Fio Nobre and the organisation of an organic
clothing production chain stretching from cotton farming to the
final sale under the Justa Trama brand name.

A number of other collective initiatives based on cooperation
and self-management and free of the employer-employee
relationship have networked at the World Social Forum whose
annual editions were held in 2001 2002 2003 and 2005 in the
southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre where it first emerged.

The Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (FBES) emerged at the
2003 WSF which coincided with the start of the government of
leftwing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who established a
National Secretary of the Solidarity Economy (SENAES) under the
Labour Ministry.

The movement in Brazil differs from those of other countries
because it combines three dimensions said FBES executive
secretary Daniel Tygel. Besides the economic aspect which
comprises self-management and the creation of cooperatives and
networks it includes a cultural dimension related to
consumption gender relations and areas like free software as
well as a policy of social transformation.

In the long term we want to change the model of production
and the direction of development towards a model that is not
harmful to life said Tygel.

Brazils solidarity economy ranges from agricultural
production which accounts for 60 percent of the groups linked
by the FBES to crafts apparel microcredit cooperatives
bankrupt companies that have been salvaged by workers
cooperatives community church projects and university incubators
of solidarity businesses.

Although the solidarity economy currently represents a paltry
share of the national economy as Tygel acknowledged it is
growing fast despite the scant government resources dedicated to
supporting its development.

But although SENAES has a tiny budget cooperatives and related
initiatives also receive financial support from the ministries
of Agricultural Development Social Development and others.

Forging connections between the numerous and varied small local
initiatives and making headway in terms of marketing and sales
are the big challenges facing the solidarity economy.

But there are successful examples of integrated production
chains and networks like Justa Trama in which the need to
secure raw materials produced under the same shared principles -
of horizontal labour relations and environmental sustainability -
brought together several textile cooperatives and an association
of more than 700 cotton farmers.

Justa Trama and the solidarity economy movement fuelled the
quantity and especially the quality of Fio Nobres production
said Idalina Boni. The cooperatives output climbed from 1.5 tons
in 2005 to eight tons in 2008.

The production chain runs from the ecological cotton grown by
family farmers in nine municipalities in the northeastern state
of Ceará through a textile cooperative that makes yarn and
fabrics in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais to three
garment-making cooperatives in the south.

Buttons collars and other components meanwhile are made from
seeds gathered by members of another cooperative in the Amazon
jungle state of Rondonia.

The biggest hurdles faced by organic farming cooperatives are
marketing and selling their products.

In the northeast Brazils poorest and driest region the Xique
Xique network of community-focused and solidarity-based
marketing which takes its name from a local cactus facilitates
the marketing of products by family farmers in the state of Rio
Grande do Norte organised in hundreds of groups which make up
nine larger cooperatives.

Agroecology womens rights and empowerment and the solidarity
economy are the three main focuses of the fast-growing
network which links production and trade said Viviana Mesquita
a local technical assistant with SENAES.

Women have a greater vocation for the solidarity economy but
their strong presence in Xique Xique is also due to the local
activity of the World March of Women said the activist a
sociologist who has been active in the community organising and
environmental movements. (FIN/2010)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cuba Considers Coops

Note from editor: I post various political viewpoints, but do not support every word that I post, personally. Having visited Cuba many years ago, I saw the enormous benefits the revolution had brought to the people, which I will not elaborate on here. Whether or not state socialism was necessary to achieve those benefits in that historical context is debatable. However, we see new forms of socialism or economic cooperation emerging that are less centralized and authoritarian, now perhaps even in Cuba. This gives me much hope as prefigurative politics are given a fair trial.

Monday, January 11, 2010
reposted from the Cuban Triangle
Jobs, anyone?

In his end-of year speech to Cuba’s National Assembly, Raul Castro said that employment would be a priority for economic policy this year. There are too many workers on government and state enterprise payrolls, he said. He noted that the expanding agriculture sector is one source of new jobs, but apart from that he didn’t offer much detail on how jobs could be created.

Raul recognized “expectations and honest concerns expressed by deputies [legislators] and citizens with regard to the pace and depth of the changes that we have to introduce into the functioning of the economy” and justified his slow pace as a hedge against the risk of “improvisation and haste.” He even pulled out a quote from Jose Marti: “What has to last a long time has to be made slowly.”

So what’s the next step?

A hint may have been provided by economy minister Marino Murillo in his December 21 speech to the legislature. His ministry and others are studying employment policy, he noted, then he said this: “Experiments have been initiated and others are being worked on to lighten the state’s burden in the provision of some services.”

There’s no date there, and certainly no detail, but that sounds like the kind of language that officials have used in the past to explain the expansion of self-employment – a realization on the government’s part that it doesn’t need to provide every single service in the economy, and some can be left to the private sector.

I find that Cubans are speculating that the government’s next step in economic policy will be to convert dysfunctional state enterprises – small ones such as restaurants, cafeterias, and repair shops – into urban cooperatives. The Cuban media long ago documented the problems in these businesses, many of which are functioning only because the workers take matters into their own hands (see articles in Juventud Rebelde in 2006, discussed here).

The speculation has been fueled by citizens’ suggestions that have appeared in the letters-to-the-editor section of Granma.

Here’s one from last November from J.R. Cuesta Tapia, an engineer and party member writing from South Africa, where he’s working on a construction project. He supports elimination of the libreta, the household food ration book, and says the government should at the same time provide cash assistance to those who really need it to buy essential products. He says that it’s natural for Cubans to wonder what would come next, given the ingrained habit of thinking that “the state will solve our problems.” He calls for allowing more private providers to supply food products, along with state inspectors to ensure food hygiene and to levy taxes. Also: “Small cooperatives could be created with the workers of cafeterias, restaurants, small industrial articles stores, the options are many…”

In the following week’s issue, there’s a supportive response from H. Palacios Alvarez, a doctor and “militant of the glorious Communist Party of Cuba.” He recalls how he went out to the streets to support the state’s takeover of small businesses in 1968. He now confesses that he “didn’t imagine, amid that revolutionary fervor, the burden that it would be for the state to take over control of that economic activity.” He agrees with Cuesta that the state should regulate rather than control small-scale food service operations, and he urges the state to create wholesale supply outlets for the self-employed who provide these services. That, he says, will allow providers to make a profit, it will keep prices low, and it will reduce theft of state resources.

The government would not have to break new ideological ground to put these ideas into practice. Self-employment, while limited, is already a reality in every neighborhood in Cuba. And cooperatives exist (and are expanding) in the farm sector.

So the people are calling for it, their calls are being published, and the government is hinting vaguely. We’ll see where it goes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Santa Cruz Currency Targets Food and Healthcare

Editor note: New Earth Exchange is presenting their concept currency to Bay Area Exchange Community Exchange for feedback in March, see for meeting details...
Tuesday, 08 December 2009 12:35 Mara Ortenburger News - Local News

Imagine opening your wallet, shuffling past your Washingtons and Lincolns, and pulling out a crisp Santa Cruz dollar. The idea for a local currency is gaining momentum, and, although alternative currencies are increasing in popularity throughout the country, a Santa Cruz version promises to be unique.

An enthusiastic crew of health care providers, wellness educators, and local food activists are drawing up plans for a mutual discount network that is tentatively being called the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative. The group wants to infuse the county economy with an alternative currency (a “Santa Cruz Wellness Buck,” perhaps), designed to bolster business for local health care providers and food producers. The currency network would incorporate the mission of New Earth Exchange, a membership network for local businesses committed to environmental sustainability and mutual-aid, but would have an expanded focus and a greater reach.

“This is bottom-up, grassroots economics,” says Langdon Roberts, sitting in a circle of people in his small Soquel office. Wedged between a certified hypnotherapist and a self-employed ecological landscaper, Roberts outlines the details of the currency network to the eager gathering of alternative healers, organic food producers, and local business owners.

Roberts’ knack for integration and innovative makes him a well-suited spokesperson for this complex and constantly evolving project. As the Director of the Center for Transformational Neurophysiology, he fuses traditional healing methods such as massage and meditation with cutting-edge biofeedback technologies. The resulting therapies are designed to help people manage anxiety and pain, overcome addictions, and cope with conditions like Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder.

“It turns out a lot of people are thinking the same thing: a local currency,” he says. “Why hasn’t it happened yet?”
Funny Money

It is legal to print and circulate an alternative currency as long as it looks different than a U.S. dollar and using it is voluntary. Doing so can kick-start a sluggish regional economy by boosting sales of local goods and services. Because it cannot be spent at chain stores or online shops, it stays in the community instead of disappearing to out-of-area banks and corporate coffers. In addition, the nonprofit that manages the currency can issue loans and grants to community groups.

Popular during the Great Depression, local currencies resurfaced in 1991 when Ithaca Hours debuted in Ithaca, New York. Detroit Cheers, the Humbolt Community Currency, and the Piedmont Plenty are other contemporary examples. BerkShares of Great Barrington, Massachusetts trump them all, however. With nearly 2.5 million bills issued since 2006, it is the largest alternative currency network in the United States. The colorful BerkShares are available in five denominations, sport portraits of local figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Herman Melville, and are accepted at more than 350 area businesses.

The currency network proposed for the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative would be unique among these forerunners. “The entry point for currency should be something that is common to everyone, so what could be better than healthcare and food?” asks Roberts.
Buck Breakdown

L. Roxanne Evans is a multifaceted Santa Cruzan whose dedication to community collaboration, education, and networking makes her especially enthusiastic about the local currency plan. A landscape designer, horticultural consultant, and certified permaculturalist, Evans first met Roberts as a patient in his neuromassage practice. The two discovered a common interest when they decided to barter for services instead of exchange cash.

“We discussed how we were interested in creating a model for formalizing this type of exchange between practitioners,” says Evans. An informal barter economy already operates among Santa Cruz health providers and small businesses. The plan now, says Evans, is to codify this system with printed money so more Santa Cruzans can get involved.

Although details are still in the works, Roberts reports that the currency network will likely be a multi-tiered, membership-based system that would revolve around a health and food program comprised of participating health care practitioners and local food growers.

Participants would pay a monthly membership fee in exchange for an allotment of local currency. A freshly printed local dollar would have to first be used at a participating health or food provider. These “primary providers” would then stamp the currency, thereby making it eligible for use at non-health- or non-food-related businesses. Providers could choose how much local currency to accept, and members would be eligible for discounted goods and services.

This arrangement would ensure that the currency first enters the local economy through health and food providers that are committed to sustainability, wellness, and community. After that, it could be used to purchase goods and services through other types of participating providers—think electricians, lawyers, furniture makers—remaining local all the while.

“Everyone can become a provider of some sort, not just the businesses with a store front,” says Roberts. “It could also include people like unemployed carpenters or those who grow organic produce in their backyards.”

As for the look and variety of the potential bills, the group is undecided. “It has to be a physical piece of paper that is difficult to counterfeit. There are a limited number of printers who can do it, but it’s possible. Maybe we’d start with one or two denominations and expand as we go,” says Roberts. The group may even host a public contest to find the perfect image for the bills.
Meeting Local Needs

Advocates of the project have identified several under-served populations as potential beneficiaries of the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative. Among them are at-risk children and youth, those with substance abuse issues and dual diagnoses, the elderly, and trauma survivors.

One proponent is Henry Iasiello, who sits on the board of directors of the Vietnam Veterans Association (VVA) California State Council and is the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) committee chair. Although not voicing an official VVA position, he feels strongly that local veterans could benefit from a community-focused health network backed by a local currency.

According to the Veterans Health Council, less than 20 percent of the approximately 24 million living veterans access health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “Having to confront the VA is an adversarial experience,” says Iasiello. “You have to argue over what is compensable and sometimes there are fine lines.” Health problems resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, are rarely covered.

“The bottom-line for vets are the concepts of readjustment and social trust, and that means reconnecting with the local community,” says Iasiello, a Vietnam veteran himself. “The idea of having this wellness exchange, of keeping it local, would be really very helpful to the veterans and their families.”
Looking Ahead

So, when will a Santa Cruz dollar be as good as gold at your neighborhood produce stand or acupuncturist’s office? Perhaps ironically, a lack of regular old greenbacks is the main challenge facing the currency network. Although Santa Cruz County Mental Health Services is currently reviewing their ambitious funding proposal, Roberts says the group is prepared to seek funding elsewhere.

Apart from the initial capital required to set up the system, print the money, and manage a searchable online database of participating providers, the people behind the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative are hoping to raise enough funds to support a paid staff. The success of the BerkShares network notwithstanding, local currencies have been known to fizzle out due to mismanaged growth and overworked volunteers.

“I think it’s a matter of organization, really,” says Roberts. “The willingness and interest is here. We’re going to organize it and make it happen.”

LOCAL MONEY, fewer PROBLEMS? Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative organizers (L-R) Daz Haela, Stephanie Winn and Langdon Roberts hope to introduce a local buck to Santa Cruz. Visit

Monday, January 11, 2010

US Social Forum PMAs and the SF Community Congress

The US Social Forum (USSF) National Planning Committee (NPC) has asked communities across the US to convene People's Movement Assemblies (PMAs). The purpose of the US Peoples Movement Assembly is to organize a ‘coming together’ and close the gap on the separation by issue, region or race, gender and age. The ‘convergence or integration’ of all of the movements, networks, alliances and organizations is to articulate to the degree possible, ‘WHAT WE WANT, WHAT WE ARE FOR & NEXT STEPS?’ Because the US Social Forum as an ‘open space’ does not take positions or actions it is important to hold the PEOPLES MOVEMENT ASSEMBLY (PMA) as an organic means of connecting the first US Social Forum and the proposed second USSF in 2010. As it has been articulated to me, the PMAs now are also seen as localities/regions coming together to host action-oriented discussions leading up to, participating in and following up on the USSF in order to have a practical, on the ground impact.

There have been a few people interested in working on hosting PMAs here in the Bay, but nothing formed yet that I know of. This concept also seems to emulate other processes that interest me, the communal councils in Latin American and the more indigenous San Francisco Community Congress as a precedent. Here is a description of the SF Community Congress:

The first San Francisco Community Congress was held on Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8, 1975, at Lone Mountain College. Nearly 1,000 people from virtually every San Francisco community, came together to participate in the Congress. The Community Congress was the culmination of a six-month process, during which 600 people attended nine "issue conventions", developed agreement on these issues and plans of action for dealing with them, and, finally, brought the results of their efforts to Lone Mountain College. Two days of open discussion, debate and voting at the Congress resulted in agreement on a broad range of issues and concerns affecting all San Francisco communities. This document presents the specific positions adopted at the Community Congress.
The communities of San Francisco, collectively and individually, are plagued by a series of day-to-day problems that are virtually endless, ranging from high unemployment to inadequate park and recreation facilities, from high rents and property taxes to the lack of basic human services, from unjust courts and police practices to unresponsive City government. Long experience of struggling with these problems has made it clear to many people that there is only one place we can look for solutions to our problems; to ourselves, and our own ability to work together for our common good. Every poor and working class community in San Francisco has learned the hard way that its interests are at the bottom of the list as far as City Hall is concerned. At the top of the list are the banks, real estate interests aid large corporations, who view San Francisco not as a place for people to live and work and raise families, but as a corporate headquarters city and playground for corporate executives. By using their vast financial resources, they have been able to persuade local government officials that office buildings, hotels, and luxury apartments are more important than blue collar industry, low-cost housing and decent public services and facilities.
If we must rely on our own efforts to reverse this situation, we must first of all agree on exactly what we want to change, and how we can best go about it. We must increase communication between our diverse peoples and communities, in order to better understand what problems we share in common, and we must develop working relationships that will enable us to make use of all our combined knowledge, skills and resources to meet our common needs. The collective work and mutual agreement developed through the Congress process can lead to strengthened mutual support among all groups involved in similar efforts. Indeed, it can lead to positive action on a city-wide basis around many different issues and concerns. The Community Congress, and its program, is only one step in a very crucial struggle -- the struggle to make San Francisco a decent place for people to live and work in. Future steps -- and the outcome of this struggle -- depend on you.
Beginning in late 1974, various neighborhood and community groups independently began to talk about the need for a "coming together" of people interested in change in San Francisco. As people talked with each other, it became apparent that this was a concern shared by many different groups and individuals, and in January, several of these began discussions around the form such a conference should take. By February, there was general agreement that there should be an open, broad-based community conference to discuss the problems of San Francisco. It was also agreed that people could best come together around specific issues of common concern. With this very skeletal structure in mind, a series of regular planning meetings began in early March, to see if other people thought the idea was of use to them, and to discuss ways in which to fund such a series of conferences. By the end of March, it was clear that many people thought the idea of a "Community Congress" was a good idea, and people began to organize special "issue conventions" to see if others who were engaged in similar struggles were willing to work together. By April 15, nine issue conventions were being planned and the Planning. Committee for the Community Congress was formed. It was composed of three representatives from each issue area, and over the next three months over sixty people actively participated in planning the Community Congress. Three community-oriented foundations, the Regional Young Adult Project, the Cambium Fund and the Third World Fund, all agreed to make grants available to put on the Congress. The issue conventions were held during the last half of April and all of May, and were very successful. Over 500 people attended conventions on health, women, housing, jobs and economic development, government change, criminal justice, environment, arts and energy. The conventions were held in community facilities throughout the City,and many people worked hard to provide childcare, food and other needed services at the conventions. Discussions were animated, but unity was achieved, and each convention produced detailed statements of the needs and desires of San Francisco's communities.
Finally, on June 7 and 8, the Community Congress itself was held, and almost 1,000 people spent two long days expanding and refining the positions developed at the issue conventions, and adding entirely new concerns and issues. The result is this document -- a people's program for change in San Francisco. A partial list of organizations who actively worked to bring about San Francisco's first Community Congress include,
Association of Black Professionals
Bay Area Gay Liberation
Bay Area Women's Coalition
Bayview Senior Center
California Legislative Council for Older Americans
Canon Kip Neighborhood Center
Centro DeCambio
Chinese for Affirmative Action
Citizens Council on Criminal Justice
Citizens for Justice
Coordinating Council on Drug Abuse
Citizens for Representative Government (CRG)
Community Design Center
Concilio DeMujeres
Delancey Street Foundation
Fair Oaks Neighbors
Federation of Ingelside Neighbors (FIN)
Four-O-Nine House
Golden Gate Business and Civic Women's Assn
Golden Gate Neighborhood Centers Association
Good Health Medical Clinic
Haight-Ashbury Center for Alcohol Problems
Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council
Humanists of San Francisco
Japanese Youth Council
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Medical Committee for Human Rights
Mission Neighborhood Center
Network Against Psychiatric Assault (NAPA)
National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws
Organization of Young Latino Activists
Peace and Freedom Party, San Francisco
Potrero Hill Community Government
Potrero Hill Neighborhood Center
People's Law School
Real Alternatives Program
Regional Young Adult Project
San Francisco Black Political Caucus
San Francisco Democratic Women's
San Francisco Tomorrow
San Quentin Six Defense
Seeds of Life
Socialist Coalition
Telegraph Hill Neighborhood
Tenant's Action Group
Tenants and Owners Opposed to Redevelopment
United Prisoners Union
Western Addition Project Area Committee (WAPAC)
KPOO Community Radio