The Case For Alternative Economies

The Case For The Alternative

Just as we must question whether a winner-take-all political system promotes all-inclusive democratic principles, so we must ask the purpose of an economic system.

Should an economic system provide for the needs of all the people, or must the people compete with one another for the necessities of life?

 Is it necessary to enshrine a system based upon the concept of winners and losers, where, in order for the system to function correctly, there must be many more losers than winners, or is it possible for the economy to work for the benefit of all?

 Is it required that anyone who questions the legitimacy of capitalism and seeks to explore alternatives to the capitalist system “must be a socialist” or worse, a communist; will the corporate propagandists continue to rule the public discourse, cutting off all dissenting voices?

There is something fundamentally wrong with an economic system that systematically disenfranchises a third of its population.

Is it any surprise that in a country of 300 million, 3 million of us, that’s 1% of the population, have seen the biggest increase in their share of the national income since 1928? 

How is it that we tolerate an economic system that distributes more wealth to 300,000 people (the top one-tenth of one percent) than it does to 150 million working people (50% of the population)?

How can it be that corporate profits have increased steadily since the 1970’s and are now the highest in all history while their share of income taxes has decreased dramatically, yet millions of people are out of work?

This is an economic system that we can call Predatory Capitalism and is the product of the Bush/Reagan (New World Order) and Bill Clinton (World Trade Organization) eras.  It has been successfully exported around the world and with it most manufacturing and industrial jobs. We here in Frederick have direct experience of this shift with the closing of local clothing and solar manufacturing operations as well as corporate call-centers.  These businesses have closed their doors in only to reopen them in lower-wage locations like China and India.

How is fundamental change achieved?  Some say revolution is the only way; overthrow of the existing order.  Certainly, frustration and anger build as conditions worsen for most people and at times violence appears to be the only solution.  As Frederick Douglass observed, “Power concedes nothing without demand.”  Today, it seems that power concedes nothing, even with demand.  Literally 10’s of millions of people around the world took to the streets of their cities ad towns to say “NO” to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, yet the invasion proceeded.  Today, from Greece to Thailand, Tunisia and Egypt people are demanding their voices be heard and they are tear-gassed, arrested, and shot dead in response.

Is resistance futile, then?  Do we need to just yield, and make the best of a bad situation, accept the fact that the overwhelming number of us will never be among the wealthy one-tenth of one percent, let alone in the top 10% of all income earners?

Certainly not.  The time has come for us to implement and live the alternative.

In the past, intentional communities, communes were established where people chose to live in community with one another, sharing the work of daily life, taking meals together and living in harmony, as much as possible, with each other and their environment.  In the 1960’s these communes often took the form of people living a Spartan existence in make-shift shelters, trying to live off the land.  Today, intentional communities can look more like gated-communities than communal living spaces.  But they both share the common trait of separation from the larger community and thus have come to be regarded as either naïve or elitist.

We believe the alternative must be implemented as an integral part of the greater community to which one belongs, whether that is a block, a neighborhood, or a city.  The alternative can be started right there, right now.

Why is this important?

When people are frustrated and feel that their government or social system no longer works for their interest, those for whom the system is working resist any change.  Thus people revolt and seek to ‘throw the bums out’.  But with what is that system replaced and who replaces the ‘bums’ that have been ousted?  Without the alternative vision, there is no place for people to go but to where they know, what has always been, and so the ‘bums’ are replaced by a new dictatorship and substantive change is again thwarted; privilege is saved and the status quo secured.

In reality, how can the alternative be widely implemented in the new society when there is no example, no matter how small, of the alternative?  This is why the alternative to the existing economic or political system must already exist, it must already be a realized, functioning reality.

Many examples exist of viable, alternative economic and political systems, both in the United States and around the world. 

Local currencies:

Locally issued money has been used for many years in communities around the world.  The Wörgl experiment was initiated in Austria in the 1930’s to stimulate the local economy and put people back to work in the midst of the Great Depression.   This local currency was used to finance local construction projects and put hundreds of people back to work.  This experiment was so successful that over 200 other communities began issuing their own currencies.  The movement ended when the Austrian government declared local currencies illegal.

Today, local currencies are used in cities across America, from Arizona to New York.  They are a way to promote and support local businesses, help local people start their own business, and keep a community economically vibrant without relying on sprawl development or international chain stores in the community.  Large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks suck the economic life out of a community by taking resources out of the community and adding very little to it.  Movements to legally limit the influence of chain stores, ‘big-box’ retailers, and other unsustainable business practices have been started all across the nation.  Some cities bar chain businesses from their downtowns in order to maintain community.

Small, local businesses are the foundation of every community; without them, community cannot exist.  They work to preserve community, prevent gentrification and keep living standards affordable.  No developer can create community; community comes from people working locally and supporting each other.  With a local currency in place, community banks could be created that would make low- and no- interest loans available to small business owners and those looking to start a business. 

Maintaining relationships:

Much of what passes for community today, even in old established neighborhoods, is just people saying hello to each other as they get into their cars or while cutting the grass in the summer.  Projects like community gardens are good ways for communities to develop a better understanding of where their food comes from as well as a way for neighbors to maintain close interaction and communication with one another.  The way to successfully implement the alternative is for people to appreciate their common needs and goals and work together to achieve them.  Growing food that helps support the neighborhood is important, developing an appreciation of purchasing what we need: food, clothing, locally takes us that much further in creating another economic model.  It will also help us to better understand how over consumption and waste affects all of us, and that reducing consumption and waste is not a function of individual moral choice but a collective action that preserves and enhances the community now and for their children.

It’s not necessary to overthrow the system in order to effect positive change; in fact, as amply demonstrated here and around the world, it will in all probability, make things worse.  In any event, global anything (even good things) is still tyranny. 

The way to the alternative is local.  By working within our communities to build and maintain good relations with our neighbors, by re-establishing the interconnectedness of people to each other and to their environment, we can not only establish the alternative but maintain it as well. 

People opening their doors, their hearts, and their eyes is how the revolution will progress and ultimately succeed.