Mapping the New Economy
by Chuck Lynd
It’s a fascinating, unpredictable, chaotic, and confusing time to be alive. On the surface, it seems we have made quite a mess of things. You know the litany of problems: income inequality, climate change, intractable wars, and a global economy that seems to work for the few, not the many. We humans are the most disruptive species ever, but our creativity and innovation are working below the surface chaos. We’re busy making the changes necessary for a successful transition to a new economy – one that is less focused on profit for its own sake, more local, sustainable, and accountable to community needs..
A decade ago Paul Hawken wrote Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming. It’s a brilliant book, as are his earlier books, The Ecology of Commerce, and Natural Capitalism. For my purpose here, the subtitle of Blessed Unrest contains the germ of a genuinely new way to think about the fascinating but complex and baffling world we now find ourselves living in.
The largest movement in the world that no one saw coming? What’s more, a decade later we still have no name for the movement and the corporate media are still in the dark. Bob Dylan captured their blind eye in these memorable lines: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”
The movement, Hawken states, encompasses three large categories of groups: environmental issues, social justice. and the rights of indigenous people. The concerns often overlap, but within each category there are many thousands of groups and no one knows or even can know how many. Hawken found about 150,000 ten years ago but there may be two or three times that number, and one reviewer speculated there may be as many as two million! The groups are located all over the world, in every city and town, representing people of every ethnicity, class, and gender. This huge, un-nameable movement to challenge, change, and transform the status quo is significant because, collectively, we are beginning to see the emergence of a new worldview.
The essence of that emerging worldview is that now ubiquitous word: Sustainability. More specifically, the movement inserts ecological thinking into our relationships with the nature and with each other. The movement is everywhere precisely because it is not ideological, it is non-hierarchical, and it tends to be deeply democratic. The movement gives voice to all who are affected and moved to action against the current system – be it food sovereignty, poverty and income inequality, mining and manufacturing industries, communications and transportation infrastructures, etc.
How is this vague depiction of a movement related to our title: Mapping the New Economy? Paul Hawken might reply: it’s the (global) economy, stupid. Hawken, himself a successful entrepreneur and businessman, became a leading figure in the movement to reinvent economics in a way that integrates capitalism within nature’s ecological support systems. Since the widespread acceptance of the environmental movement in the 1970s, a growing chorus of economists and thought leaders have recognized the need to reign in capitalism and bring it back down to earth – quite literally, by recognizing the cost of the “externalities” associated with polluting the air, water, and soil that supports all life.
Today that chorus calling for a new economy – from Herman Daily, Hazel Henderson, and Donella Meadows to David Korten, Michael Shuman, and Gar Alperovitz – has morphed into the leading edge of Hawken’s worldwide, grassroots movement to create the conditions for sustainable economies of the future. The New Economy Coalition <neweconomy.net>, the Next System Project <thenextsystem.org>, the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies <bealocalist.org>, and hundreds of affiliated networks and projects are building pragmatic, alternative economic models designed to counter the claim that the present global, neoliberal economic system is inevitable. TINA, “There Is No Alternative” now rings hollow in the face of mounting evidence that the current system is the root cause of climate change, income inequality, and the corruption of democratic societies.
When the Pope calls upon Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate, to assist in developing Laudito Si, his encyclical on climate change and the environment, something really IS happening. I do not claim to know or predict the future, but it’s a good bet that a new economy is emerging that will eventually supplant the dominant but flawed version of capitalism in place today.
Future columns will begin to “map the new economy” with specific reference to examples and trends emerging in Columbus and central Ohio. Look for posts on social enterprises, triple bottom line companies, the new B (Benefit) Corporation certification standards, co-operative business models, ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans), the Sharing Economy, the Caring Economy, even the Gift Economy – plus the growing investment infrastructure supporting these new approaches.
Chuck Lynd serves as the Steering Committee Chair of the Support Our Local Economy (SOLE) Coalition. This and future columns will be posted on the Think Columbus First website. Email Chuck.Lynd@gmail.com.