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Pathways to a People’s Economy, a project of New Economy Coalition (NEC), is a movement to build a people’s economy. NEC understands the time for a new system, changing the rules, giving communities control is now. And, they see a pathway forward. 

Through a four-part policy proposal, Pathways to a People’s Economy sets a vision for policies that will bring about change toward an economy that values people ahead of profit and sees the dignity in all life.

The Policy Areas are:

  1. Own our Workplaces
  2. Build our Neighbourhoods
  3. Finance our Futures
  4. Restore our Planet

In each policy area on NEC’s website, they clearly outline the pathway to economic systems change, including specific policy proposals and explanations as to why they propose such ideas. Each section includes cases studies that support their proposals of bringing this economy to life. We have briefly outlined those proposals here:

1. Own our Workplaces:

Vision: a world where there is no difference between “worker” and “owner”.

This proposal sees worker-owned cooperatives as a way to build community wealth and control. Some suggestions for policymakers are to:

  • Invest in local financial support for worker cooperatives, including revolving loan funds, loan guarantees and grant programs for both worker cooperative businesses and the technical assistance providers to serve them.
  • Give workers the right of first refusal to buy businesses that are put up for sale or threatened with closure.

Cooperatives are a solution that meets the needs of the business sector in communities, while also ensuring that wealth stays within the communities, to support the owners that reside in them. It also ensures that businesses do not close if issues arise with ownership. It shares accountability and ensures community prosperity.

2. Build Our Neighbourhoods

Vision: a world in which safe and quality homes are a human right—where our housing system and policies are rooted in community, participation, equity and anti-displacement.

Similar to cooperative business models, NEC advocates for housing cooperatives, land trusts and resident-owned communities. They suggest policymakers can reach these goals if they:

  • Make 50% of publicly owned vacant land available to community-owned/ democratically controlled housing at nominal or below-market prices.
  • Require building, rehabbing, or funding of community owned / democratically controlled housing in exchange for public subsidies and/or land use accommodations provided to for-profit developer.
  • Prioritise and expand public subsidies available to enable deeper affordability and prioritise permanently affordable, community-controlled developments.

By providing a variety of ownership options in the housing sector, these solutions remove predatory landlords and give security to historically insecure communities by reducing gentrification and homelessness.

3. Finance Our Future

Vision: a world in which the financial systems puts people over profits.

This means tighter regulations on private banks and Wall Street, divesting from extractive and predatory industries and expanding public banking and community-owned capital. NEC suggests policymakers undertake the following strategies:

  • Limit the size and power of banks
  • Create and strengthen those banks, community capital vehicles and financial institutions that prioritise the communities they serve.

In rethinking how money flows in our economy, we have the opportunity to create a system that fuels a regenerative economy and invests in visionary institutions that meet the needs of communities and planet.

4. Restore our Planet

Vision: a world where regenerative economies ensure that both people and the planet are thriving.

In order to prevent complete climate collapse, we must restore air, water and soil quality, meet the needs of communities and protect the most vulnerable populations from the crisis that already exists. NEC suggests policymakers act quickly and embrace the following:

  • Restore Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination
  • Divest from climate destruction and reinvest in climate resiliency
  • Build regenerative agriculture systems

It’s imperative that we move away from dependence on fossil fuels for jobs and energy, towards climate resilience and restoration.

These policy areas are just a preview of the expansive resource that NEC has developed.

Do check out NEC’s People’s Economy site and follow them on socials Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

Written by  Sandra Waddock, Boston College Carroll School of Management (cc) 2020

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In a powerful book published in 1986 called Images of Organisation, management scholar Gareth Morgan vividly demonstrated how the metaphors used to describe organisations shape perceptions of who these organisations are. Metaphors are one type of meme. Memes [in this case speaking of Meme’s beyond colloquial internet memes] are the basis on which the stories that we tell are built. In Morgan’s case, these stories are about organisations and indicate different perspectives about ‘how things work here’ and who ‘we’ are in that particular context.

Memes are, in the thinking of Susan Blackmore, who has written extensively about them, core units of cultures that when successful transfer readily from one person’s mind to others. Memes are ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols, metaphors, and brands that are at the heart of how we humans understand things. Memes are the units out of which we compose stories and narratives, for example, in Morgan’s case about organisations.

Memes are ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols, metaphors, and brands that are at the heart of how we humans understand things

Morgan’s book—and its different ‘stories’ about organisations—helped reshape thinking about organisations, particularly companies. In Morgan’s telling, organisations could be viewed as machines, living organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, systems in flux and transformation, and instruments of domination, among others. Each of these perspectives tells a different story about the nature, purposes, and functioning of the enterprise. Each metaphor is based on a different core meme—core idea—that shapes understanding of the organisation, is easily identifiable, and resonates as at least somewhat appropriate with many people. The perspective—the story and its related memes—strongly influences attitudes towards a given enterprise—as well as practices, attitudes, and behaviors within it.

So it is with the narratives and stories that shape our lives. Really important and foundational stories in different contexts are what anthropologists call cultural mythologies. Stories and narratives are central to any human enterprise, whether it is a business organisation or whole economies, and indeed to what makes us human. These stories are the ones that tell people in those communities what it means to be part of that community; they are the ones that most people are familiar with and that really make one culture different from others. The memes on which such cultural mythologies are built shape and form attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors.

Today, particularly in the so-called developed world, we are living under what is sometimes called a meta-narrative or meta-story. Such metanarratives are like umbrellas in that they cover numerous aspects of the culture or system. In doing so, they provide a kind of roadmap to what it means to be part of this system, culture, or community. The dominant metanarrative in the world—at least before the Covid-19 pandemic hit—is that of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the economic theory that tells us that the purpose of the corporation is to ‘maximise shareholder wealth’, that companies and economies should pursue continual and unending growth in profitability, markets, and market dominance. Neoliberalism also notes that what matters is intense competition in purportedly free markets and in a globalised world where trade is also supposed to be free. It tell us, in contrast to scientific evidence from biology, that humans are self-interested profit maximisers. It focuses whole economies on constant growth of financial wealth, often as measured in share prices on stock exchanges, rather than any other important human values.

The dominant metanarrative in the world—at least before the Covid-19 pandemic hit—is that of neoliberalism

Mantras associated with neoliberalism assert several important memes in the way of slogans. One is that ‘There is no such thing as society’, to use the words of Margaret Thatcher, one of the theory’s dominant proponents during the 1980s. The other, also from Thatcher, is TINA, the idea that ‘There is no alternative’ to capitalism, even to the extreme form of capitalism dominant in the world today. A third meme, stated by then US President Ronald Reagan involves reducing the power of government, ‘Keep government off our backs’, advocating for laissez-faire governments.

Such memes have consequences in real life. These ideas influence how companies behave—in cutthroat competitive fashion rather than more collaboratively or making decisions in the interests of short-term profitability rather than long-term strategic considerations. Companies sometimes seek ‘efficiency’ at whatever costs to workers, the natural environment, or local communities might be involved even if that means layoffs, pollution, clear cutting of forests, cruel animal husbandry practices, or other so-called “externalities”. The diminishment of governmental effectiveness since the 1980s is a direct result of these beliefs—with significant consequences that have become very apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic in some countries. Neoliberalism with its core memes is an important metanarrative—cultural mythology.

Once a myth like neoliberalism gets established, and it does so when key memes get repeated over and over by others (or replicated from mind to mind, as Susan Blackmore might say), it is very hard to change. The problem is that experts are educated in the context of field-specific paradigms that tell them how their field operates, how to do their work, and what is and is not important. Shifting paradigms—beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and expertise—requires new education, insights, and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing research.

Shifting paradigms—beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and expertise—requires new education, insights, and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing research.

The idea of creating wellbeing economies is meant to provide powerful, resonant counter-memes to today’s dominant narrative. Particularly in the context of the global pandemic now afflicting the world, the idea of wellbeing for all, where ‘all’ includes all of nature as well as well as all human beings, may well begin to resonate. Values associated with creating a wellbeing economy move away from financial wealth maximisation as the core purpose of economies towards fostering what gives life to our societies and the economies that support them, subordinating economies to the broader societies in which they operate. Some of the values associated with wellbeing economies (which might differ in different places) are, but share a common set of values (i.e., memes):

Societies and their economies are human creations that need to be designed to be: 

  • Based on relationships and connectedness to self, others, and nature.
  • Measured/evaluated by collective wellbeing without dignity violations[1] of humans or other living creatures.
  • Oriented towards life-giving/affirming design principles that recognize cyclicality, development into complexity without continual growth, and flourishing for all.
  • Recognized as human creations integrally connected to nature.

The question for WEAll and all organisations working to change our economic system, is how to bring these values—these new memes—into widespread and resonant being throughout society. What new stories can we tell? What new narratives can we develop? What are the powerful memes that will resound broadly and create activism and demand for wellbeing—not ‘wealth’ when wealth really only serves to create what the British art critic John Ruskin called call ‘illth’—the opposite of wealth, which in its original meaning has to do with wellbeing, health, and wholeness. That is the real wealth a wellbeing economy seeks.

 

For Further Reading

Blackmore, S. (2000). The meme machine. Vol. 25. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.

Blackmore, Susan. (2000). The power of memes. Scientific American, 383(4): 64-73.

Summer, Claire (2020). Telling the Story of What WEAll Need. <https://wellbeingeconomy.org/telling-the-story-of-what-we-all-need-blog-by-claire-sommer>

[1] To use the framing of Donaldson & Walsh (2015).