By Clare Strawn, PhD
What is the New Economy and why is it important?
What inspires you? In this time of chaos and decline, how do we keep going? There are many strategies of personal and collective action that we turn to, including personal and community relationships. Mass mobilizations and marches to declare that we do not agree with the powers that be and legal/political actions, such as the Children’s Trust that is suing the US Government, are important social action vehicles of resistance. At the same time we must go beyond resistance and the importance of local organizing, especially when we are excluded from the national political voice, is coming to the fore.
What inspires me is the growing movement of communities that are building infrastructures of cooperation with the intention of building local capacity to meet our needs close to home. Google “Cooperation Jackson”, “Cooperation Boston,” “Cooperation Richmond.” These are not just alternative communities designed to make a safe bubble in a scary world. Under the banner of “New Economy” over 200 communities in the US are building on and responding to local issues and assets. They start with community building – cultivating social capital, trust relationships and exchange. From there many different models are being formulated.
Here is an example of extractive economy in Eugene that could have been a regenerative project. A Seattle based developer turned an urban farm on River Road into a large, poorly constructed 192-unit apartment complex, using subsidies for low income housing development. They sold the complex for a 13 million dollar profit to a management company that charges market rate rents and gets very poor ratings on YELP from current residents. Next, they used $800,000 of that profit to buy a beautiful 3.5-acre lot on the Willamette greenway from Homes for Good – a non-profit that had earmarked this property for low income housing. They plan to build market rate apartments there, with a green light from the city planning department because “all housing is needed housing” even though it will impact the neighborhood and greenway environment. So, $13 million dollars were extracted from our community, rents were raised and none of it benefits the unhoused or low-income renters, while an out of state private speculator makes millions. Those of us witnessing and protesting this process imagined: what if we were able to pool our collective assets to buy that property as a Community Land Trust and develop it in a way that met the needs of people for accessible housing? What a difference it would make to keep those resources in the community! How far would $13 million go to addressing the housing crisis?
The timber industry is Oregon’s largest extractor of natural resources and emitter of carbon dioxide. A truckload of logs is worth about $1,200, but the accompanying emissions generate costs of up to $70,000. This is subsidized by us for a total of $700 million between 2017-19. This means each household pays $230 a year to pay timber extractors about $430 per log truck. What if we invested that $230 into local worker and innovator co-ops that implemented climate friendly solutions?
We need to create the organizational and financial capacities to implement these solutions.
There are many examples of possibility: In Oakland, California The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Collective bought a building with six apartments and six retail/non-profit spaces by raising $1.5 million dollars through crowd funding. Cooperative incubators, such as those being developed in Jackson, train and empower workers to become collaborative entrepreneurs, create stable living wage employment, and promote economic democracy while providing services like composting, catering, care-giving, and bike repair. Urban agriculture and farm-to-table cooperatives such as Urban Tilth, part of Cooperation Richmond in California, is another model that is growing in popularity. Cooperation Boston gathers a couple of hundred people regularly to vote on allocation of group assets to local endeavors and to provide classes to the community on cooperative economic management. The new economy movement digs into the economic causes of problems like homelessness, food deserts, and low wage employment and re-imagines how the community can empower itself through cooperation.
New Economy community work is effective on many different levels. First, it reinforces community social capital and relationships that are the basis for resilience. Second, it builds grass-roots infrastructure that will meet basic needs close to home as the corporate extractive economy crumbles. Third, it reduces climate change and green house gas emissions through intentional design and as a function of being local. Fourth, in many places the New Economy movement is being led by communities of color on the front lines of economic injustice. By joining this network and doing similar work here, we are in solidarity with a broader social justice movement. Fifth, building the new economy completes the circle of the resistance front. Take for example the Water Protectors movement against extractive fossil fuels. Standing Rock is on the front line of resistance, supported by legal efforts to block extraction. Upstream is the movement to divest from fossil fuels and pressure banks to not fund extractive corporations. The New Economy directs those assets disinvested from the extractive economy to reinvestment in local cooperative infrastructure with a networked global impact.
The extractive economy feeds the one percent: from the finance industry, to speculative land development, to fossil fuel, timber and other natural resource extraction, to fast food franchises and big box stores and Amazon. Our energy is further depleted by putting out fires (literally and figuratively), housing the homeless in sub-standard temporary shelter, distributing free food and medical care so our community members don’t die on our watch. This is necessary work. However, the degree to which we can disinvest our life force from the extractive economy and invest in our own communities, we not only enact resistance to that machine, but we build a working future vision that cares for people in the interim. The extractive economy has no values base other than private profit. The cooperative economy identifies our shared values, including the rights of nature, and uses those values to guide investment in the commons.