New economy: introduction

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Dan Millman

“We need to build new infrastructures within the ruins of the old.” – McKenzie Wark

What is the new economy?

There’s a crash coming. Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of Greta Thunberg and the XR gang – what they’re saying is right. We’re headed for ecological collapse. The current economy is driving us towards the crash, by:

  • stimulating overconsumption, via ubiquitious advertising and a drive to maximise returns for shareholders and lenders;
  • depleting communities by sucking money out of them via the corporate branches that are embedded in them;
  • concentrating that money in the tax haven accounts of very few people, and using that concentrated wealth (which includes ownership of the media) to influence the political process and public opinion, to ensure that system change (and democracy) is prevented.
worker-co-ops

Workers’ co-operatives form the backbone of the low-impact economy. Decisions are made democratically, and rewards are distributed depending on your own work.

However, a new economy is being built that reverses these processes. It can help push back the crash, mitigate its effects and catch people when it happens. This new economy is decentralised, community-based and not controlled by the state or corporations, but by ordinary people in communities.

Components

The parts of the new economy include:

The Ecological Land Co-op helps to set up organic smallholdings in England and Wales. The Scottish Farm Land Trust is being established to do the same in Scotland.

Features

Community-based: the new economy is embedded in community and is based on timeless principles – providing goods and services for an exchange medium that is used to buy goods and services provided by other people, rather than on the parasitic principles of just trying to make more and more money from investments, speculation and lending money at interest.

Small-scale: large co-operative organisations are at risk of being bought out by ‘old economy’ institutions – for example the Co-op Bank and Co-op Energy, which stumbled and were swallowed by the corporate sector, leaving gaping holes in the co-operative movement that wouldn’t have happened with a network of community-embedded institutions.

linux-mint

Free & open source software and operating systems, like Linux, provide an alternative to the corporate sector – and they’re free.

Decentralised: networking local institutions rather than consolidation into giant ones. Mondragon is a network of small- and medium-sized co-ops in Spain, encompassing manufacturing, education, software and distribution. It produces high-tech electrical goods, amongst other things, and employs over 75,000 people in small, co-operative businesses. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s an example that shows that the co-operative sector can scale up by federating rather than centralising.

comm-energy

Community energy schemes are springing up around the country, generating energy from wind, sun and water.

Implementable: there are many ideas about how society might be organised, but with no corresponding implementation plan. We’re wasting time if we’re discussing ideas that have no implementation plan. The new economy is being built already. It doesn’t require anything to be ‘overthrown’, and it doesn’t require politicians to to the right thing. It just requires enough people, including you, to switch to new economy institutions in the ways outlined below, so that the new economy can grow to transcend the current economy in the same way that the current economy grew to transcend feudalism.

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Community-supported agriculture is a way to provide guaranteed income for small farmers and nutritious, local food for the community.

What are the benefits of the new economy?

Sustainability

  • Production and consumption aren’t constantly stimulated to expand to satisfy shareholders.
  • Food (and everything else) miles are reduced.

Democracy

  • Wealth doesn’t concentrate and overflow into the political system (via political donations, jobs for politicians, the lobby industry etc.). So we could have an uncorrupted, democratic political system that doesn’t protect the status quo.
  • We could have a money system that doesn’t involve interest or require banks.

The Preston Model. The local authority in Preston employed CLES to help build a network of local ‘anchor institutions’, such as hospitals, university and the police, to redirect their spending to local businesses, including the council food budget, which prioritised food provided by Lancashire farmers. There’s a new Preston Co-operative Network, and new co-ops and food hubs are developing. The local authority is now looking at setting up a local bank to fund local businesses, and becoming a municipal energy supplier to provide an alternative to the giant energy corporations. Preston was voted the best town to live in in the North-west, and other local authorities around the country are taking an interest in the model.

Community well-being

  • All towns won’t have to look the same, with the same corporate branches and supermarkets.
  • Keeps money in communities, rather than allowing the corporate sector to suck wealth out.

Individual well-being

  • More meaningful, creative work; more personal autonomy; more human interaction; more input into the decisions that affect your job. All these things are beneficial to mental health.
  • More (and more interesting) jobs, rather than corporate ‘bullshit jobs’.
  • Trading with each other (especially in mutual credit) builds trust.
  • Personal freedom is only fully appreciated when it’s threatened. Centralised power in the state or the corporate sector always runs the risk of its being seized by people who really shouldn’t have it. This has happened repeatedly in all eras and in all geographical areas.
  • Building more trusting communities means less crime and less risk to personal safety.
  • More fun.
mutual-credit-businesses

Mutual credit is an idea to allow businesses to trade with each other in ways that strengthen communities and don’t require banks.

Unity

  • These ideas are not ‘left’ or ‘right’, and don’t need to divide us. The new economy isn’t associated with any -isms, which are always opposed by those who support different -isms. The new economy is neither planned nor extractive, and it doesn’t just exist in theory – it’s already being built.
  • This may seem unrealistic to you. You may be right, but we think it’s worth a shot – it feels much more realistic than a) carrying on as if nothing is wrong; b) attempting to overthrow the current system, with its enormous military power; or c) trying to reform a system that perpetually concentrates wealth and power; reform can seem a bit like serving organic food on the Titanic – it appears sustainable until you step back and see the bigger picture.
  • Alternatively, it may not seem enough for you – it’s still based on a market, for example. Some would like to see an economy based on love, rather than exchange. Maybe one day we’ll transition to that – when we’re more enlightened. But there doesn’t seem to be a way of making that transition in one step from where we are now. We can build utopia later – right now we have to build an economy that allows us to survive whilst avoiding fascism.
self-employment500

Self-employment is an important part of the low-impact economy.

What can I do?

Read, research locally, watch our interviews with people building (or facilitating the building of) the new economy.

Consumption

Downshift – don’t fall for the consumerist hype.

Shift your consumption to the new economy. We’ve made this easier for you at our sister organisation, NonCorporate.org.

Beware a couple of things that pretend to be non-extractive and democratic. First, ‘corporate social responsibility’ – corporations employ an army of graduates to work out ways to give a tiny portion of their profit to charitable causes, or install renewable energy on their properties, whilst trying to disguise the fact that corporations are centralised, undemocratic entities that suck money out of communities. The real aim of corporate social responsibility is to maintain corporate market share. Second, the ‘sharing economy’ – a misnomer that includes Über, Airbnb and other companies that not only suck wealth out of communities, but don’t even provide or maintain the tools / infrastructure required.

Glen Wyvis, in Dingwall, Scotland, is the world’s first community-owned distillery.

Production

Reskill (if required), to be able to provide useful things for yourself and for your community.

Use those skills to become a sole trader, or to start / join a local group – a co-operative, community land trust, or any of the topics in our economy category. Training is often available.

Your prices will be higher than the corporate alternatives, but that’s because you won’t be able to avoid taxes, employ virtual slave labour overseas or bribe politicians. But if you consistently support other new economy businesses, and they support you in return, we can give each other a good living in a sustainable economy.

Community land trusts: part of a low-impact economy

Community land trusts are local, not-for-profit organisations that steward land and property (such as local pubs threatened with closure) democratically for their local community.

We mustn’t let the corporate sector take over our assets, as they did with a lot of building societies – those that survived had ‘asset locks’ in their founding documents that prevent members from benefiting from the sale of the organisation. Make sure your chosen organisation has an asset lock.

Purchase community shares to become part-owner of community-based enterprises. The aim is to allow people with a little capital to invest in enterprises that are valuable to their community, but are different in that they can’t be traded, they don’t increase in value and it’s one person, one vote.

Investigate the potential for community wealth building, a local economic forum, the Preston Model or a co-operative grocery in your community. The more you investigate, the more potential you’ll discover.

mondragon: part of a low-impact economy

The Mondragon Corporation is a famous federation of worker co-ops in the Basque Country, employing 75,000 people in manufacturing, retail, banking and a co-operative university. The ratio of highest-paid to lowest paid is 5:1, and is decided upon by a vote of all members (in comparison, corporate wage ratios are around 200:1).

Exchange

Mutual credit is the exchange mechanism for the new economy. It’s an exchange medium that isn’t a store of value, so can’t be extracted from ordinary people to create billionaires. It works in places with no money, so it’s a cure for poverty; plus there’s no interest, and it removes the need for banks.

Register your business with the Open Credit Network (OCN) and start to trade in mutual credit. Contact the OCN to become a local convener in your community, and help build a network of trading businesses.

The Phone Coop: part of a low-impact economy

The Phone Co-op is the only co-operative phone and broadband provider in the UK.

Federation

We’re going to need to organise to grow the new economy without consolidating into giant institutions – scale needs to be achieved by keeping the units small, but collaborating, networking and federating. Challenges to centralised power have always been suppressed. Now that we have the internet, that might be more difficult.

Join organisations committed to building a federated new economy (including Lowimpact.org); attend conferences around the theme of new economy networking; blog, comment, share, debate, read, learn, organise. Meet like-minded people and help plan the development of a new, decentralised, networked economy that doesn’t destroy nature, democracy and communities.

 


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Dave Darby is the founder of Lowimpact.org and NonCorporate.org. ‘Specialist’ is definitely the wrong word, as this is a huge topic, with many component parts. If you post queries on specific topics in the ‘economy’ section, we’ll try to get specialists to answer them for you. This page is for general comments and queries, and discussing how we collaborate and network to build the new economy.


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