This was a post I started writing August 5th of 2019. I found it among my drafts and decided to finish it.
I have just started watching a documentary on Netflix called A New Economy and so far the basic notion that we need to make our economies more oriented towards what is healthy and good for humanity and the environment is one I heartily agree with. John Fullerton put our need to get back to human-scale levels of interaction, and the challenge facing us quite well: “We’re in transition and what’s remarkable to me is thast people feel that in their bones. We need to figure out how to align the human economy with the principles and patterns that tend to operate in all living systems. That’s the essence of it. And so the challenge is to kind of switch out the engines while we’re keeping the plane in the air.”
Richard Sennet, the author of Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation said “You can look at cooperation as an ethical, good-hearted thing. Or you can look at it as something people need to do to take your work seriously, to take other people seriously, to organize politically. This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. This is about actually getting the world to work.” The point was made that these cooperative efforts go beyond 20th century capitalism and socialism. I find it interesting that both were included, and it is something that heartens me quite a bit.
No economic models that rely on cheap and easy to exploit energy are going to make it long-term. Burning fossil fuels has put our environment into multiple crisis points. Our ways of doing things the last 200 or so years has led to the world as it is now. No amount of trying to engage with either economic model is going to be useful when the very means by which both capitalism and socialism have operated in are swiftly vanishing, and by trying to engage in them would continue to perpetuate the very harm we need to address. Not every endeavor people will embark on to face the future will work, but that is not the point. Rather, it is that our various approaches are needed because continuing to clutch to capitalism and socialism as the only models worth pursuing cuts all of us off of creative, dynamic, and needed approaches on far more local and sustainable levels.
This all being said, I’m not fully convinced that co-ops are the way to go as many of the subjects in A New Economy seem to. I think that different approaches will be useful to different communities, enterprises, companies, industries, and businesses. Where I will agree with the ideas of co-ops is that everyone needs to have skin in the game. Among the large failings that capitalism has, is that in order to allow for is the intimacy of connection and interdependency that growing your own food, brewing, etc all required to do well while also locking down relationships, information, and technology useful to all those things behind paywalls, patents, and proprietary services. Sensorica, a cooperative open source manufacturing network provides prototyping services with equipment that would normally cost tens of thousands for people to access. Just to access, not even to produce anything. They can do this for 20% of the cost, providing accesss not only to would-be entrepeneurs and inventors, but also to universities who would otherwise be denied this access. This kind of open-source work allowed Linux to become one of the top operating systems, allowing access to PC technology without having to engage with overpriced bloatware like Windows or Mac OS. Worker owned co-ops, collective works, and open source information provide means for many to not only reach for dreams, but to achieve them.
Another idea floated in the movie is the idea of regenerative economics, the idea that capital assets, namely land, water, air, etc and the things which are derived from goods within those are tied to economics. The problem I have with this is that it is enclosure by another name. It is capitalism’s maw closing around the last things it should ever have access to. No, I do not think that we should be tying this into our system of economics, especially when we trade futures and such on the NYSE, directly affecting the price of natural resources. The exploitation of the world’s natural resources and the history of imperialism around them should show us readily that this is not worth pursuing. It is in capitalism’s nature to turn things into revenue streams, and this is one area where its worst excesses should be kept at bay.
The central idea of the documentary, though, is one I find both heartening, especially now in 2021. We can collectively build our way to a better future through mutual aid, empowerment, work, and heart. By keeping our ideas open, allowing for the free flow of ideas, we can empower each other to experiment, design, and build on our ideas and dreams. As humans, part of this world, we can engage with beauty, heart, and intelligence together and make our lives better collectively. One size of approach certainly won’t fit all, nor will it be the answer to the myriad problems we face. However, I think it is one of the paths that puts us on better track to make good traction with the predicaments we face.