Emerging EcoNomics #2: The Emerging New Economy Movement

AlterNet has published an excellent article that seeks to summarize the “new economy movement” – at least from a progressive perspective – including sustainability, community, co-ops, localization, collective ownership, stockholder activism, corporate personhood challenges, the commons, social enterprises, and low or no growth economics.

I’m sharing Gar Alperovitz’s “The Rise of the New Economy Movement” with you because
a.  it notes with appropriate excitement the remarkable surge of interest and creativity in new economic arrangements;
b.  it covers such a wide range of “new economy” initiatives; and
c.  it fails to cover some other remarkable “new economy” initiatives that I want to quickly note below, fyi, and then cover in later postings greater detail.

I suggest first reading the article and then, after you read it, come back here to read what I think is missing from its already inspiring vision.



The Rise of the New Economy Movement
By Gar Alperovitz, AlterNet
Posted on May 20, 2012

Just beneath the surface of traditional media attention, something vital has been gathering force and is about to explode into public consciousness. The “New Economy Movement” is a far-ranging coming together of organizations, projects, activists, theorists and ordinary citizens committed to rebuilding the American political-economic system from the ground up. 



Have you read the article?  OK.  Here are my comments and additions:


Alperovitz’s economic vision is still largely grounded in the debt-based, monetized, largely competitive production and exchange of material goods, albeit accomplished with greater ecological responsibility and democratic empowerment.  While that is and will continue to be a major aspect of most economics, much of what is emerging is expanding outside of that worldview.  

Here are some pieces that I see overlooked in Alperovitz’s effort to embrace the tsunami of economic innovation.  I offer the following three lists with full knowledge that I am myself undoubtedly overlooking still further innovations.  It is a wildly creative scene out there…


The do-it-yourself (DIY, or “maker”) movement I described in my last post is being augmented by an explosion of old and new forms of peer-to-peer (P2P) economic activity that have little or nothing to do with mainstream money, including:

1.  Gifting – from intimate gifting circles and community giveaways to sophisticated, reputation based online gifting and “freecycling” networks.
2.  Lending and sharing – from tool libraries and couch-surfing to car-shares and full-service online sharing networks.
3.  Barter – from personal trades on Craigslist to business-to-business product exchanges.
4.  Local exchange systems – so-called time exchanges and LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems) are closely related to:
5.  Credit clearing systems and local or complementary currencies.
6.  Crowd-sourced credit and philanthropy systems where many people provide small amounts of funding to small entrepreneurs (in addition to crowd-sourced knowledge, ideas, and creativity).


In addition to these new forms of economic activity, we find more people exploring low-consumption, low-waste, low-toxic, low-expense lifestyles that actually INCREASE their quality of life.  And we find growing interest in technologies that facilitate such abundance-with-less lifestyles.  These include the aforementioned “lending and sharing” sites (which make it unnecessary for everyone to buy their own cars and lawnmowers), as well as:
1.  Local wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources that reduce dependence on “the grid”.
2.  New and resurrected DIY technologies of gardening, food processing, home building, transportation, health care, and more (all of which serve the DIY movement).
3.  Miniaturization, modularization, multi-use, and increased efficiency designs which use less resources.
4.  Recycling, reuse, repair – both as practices and as product design principles (“waste=food”, “cradle to cradle design”).
5.  Dematerialization and “ephemeralization” of goods – including education and entertainment that is in electronic rather than physical form, as well as consuming less “stuff” while enjoying more “experience” (nature, learning, spirit, personal growth, creativity, fellowship, fun, freedom, etc.).
6.  De-jobbing society – replacing many full-time jobs with part-time j
obs, job-sharing, individual and small group entrepreneurship and social benefit activity, and even guaranteed income (“the social dividend”) which, in the context of the innovations above, can make the term “jobless” mean “able to live a decent life while pursuing one’s passions and giving one’s gifts to the world”.


Finally, there are major theoretical breakthroughs that support all of these approaches and “de-monetize” both economic activity and our very ideas of what constitutes “value” and “wealth”.  In addition to theories of “the commons”, equity, and slow-growth noted in Alperovitz’s essay, we see the following ideas also emerging:
1.  Redefining and expanding “capital” to include natural capital, social capital, cultural capital, and many other forms – which suggest a radically different paradigm of capitalism and “return on investment”.
2.  Internalizing social and environmental costs of products in their prices – such as through taxes and fees on extractive or damaging economic activities – so that the prices of harmful products go up, making them more expensive than comparable products that are socially and ecologically responsible.
3.  New indicators of economic success that replace GDP (Gross Domestic Product, which is basically the amount of money spent in the economy) with measures of “quality of life”, “real progress”, “happiness”, etc., and establishing the “triple bottom line” (social, environmental, and financial outcomes) as the main standard for corporate success and legitimacy.
4.  Moving from usury to low and even negative interest because negative interest stimulates spending (which speeds the flow of money through the economy) and also stimulates generosity (which earns you status and credit in an economy that includes lots of gifting and sharing) as well as making accumulation less attractive (“keep it and lose it”, stimulating wealth distribution and equity).
5.  More sophisticated understanding of people’s true needs and how a vibrantly healthy economy could satisfy those deep needs and generate actual happiness, contrasted with economies based on marketing that artificially stimulates desire, demand, and ultimately addiction that leaves deep needs chronically starved.
6.  Reining in parasitic and hazardous financial speculation – especially risky, instantaneous, high-volume, highly computerized speculative transactions – the global “casino capitalism” – that can destabilize or crash whole economies.  Even minor taxation of such transactions would both slow them down and (because they are so voluminous) provide substantial funds for major social benefits like social dividends, environmental regeneration, eradication of poverty, etc.
7.  Bioregionalism, locavorism, glocalism, subsidiarity – look ’em up with Google or Wikipedia – and other new ways of looking at social organization and behavior that legitimate local and regional economies.
8.  Minimizing or eliminating private rents for ownership of what should be public property or commons – from land to roads to utilities.
9.  Philosophically realigning economics with our increasing awareness of the interconnected, self-organized nature of reality and humanity, providing theoretical support for all forms of mutual aid, partnership, sustainability, democratic self-organization, gifting and sharing.


Combining these three lists with the vista of initiatives described by Alperovitz, and we see a vigorous revival of living economic possibilities arising in the midst of our currently top-heavy, unsustainable, and often oppressive economic systems which are showing increasing signs of serious trouble or even collapse.  One of the most exciting things about this emerging economic landscape is the extent to which power, functionality, and abundance can be liberated and created by individuals, groups, networks and communities without having to battle with the powers-that-be, from the ground up, through innovative collaborations and technological developments that are already being created and used in dozens of places.  

While there is ample room and need for protest and resistance, there is also tremendous opportunity for simply taking responsibility for co-creating the economy we want right now, together, right where we live.

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