In this edition:
- Upcoming interview—December 13, 11 AM Eastern time (8 AM Pacific time)
- My New Course Offering — Principles of Exchange Innovation
- Report on California Tour
- Major conference upcoming, June, 2015
- My next book?, + video projects
I have accepted an invitation to be the featured guest on Bartertown Radio on Saturday, December 13.
Bartertown Radio, which describes itself as “your educational station for Trade,” is a Live Radio Talk Show every Saturday Morning at 11:00 EST ( check your local time please). My interview will be all about moneyless trading and exchange innovation, particularly as it applies to the commercial trade exchange business. To listen in and/or share your thoughts you can call 1-347-989-8557 for the show. Calls can be made using any phone or by using your Skype account which provides calls at very low cost especially for those living outside the U.S.
My New Course Offering — Principles of Exchange Innovation
As the years pass I become ever more aware of time as a scarce commodity, and as the global mega-crisis intensifies, I feel a greater urgency about the need to transcend the global interest-based, debt-money system that is driving us to destruction. Thus I am eager to pass on to the next generations the important insights and discoveries I have made over the past 35 years. I am intent on doing this in ways that will have a greater impact than the presentations, workshops and writings I have been producing over the past many years.
While I relinquished my formal academic career decades ago in favor of independent inquiry, scholarship, writing, and consulting, I remain a teacher a heart and am making it my highest priority to offer a course in the Principles of Exchange Innovation. I am quite sure that there is no other course like this anywhere, and I am uniquely qualified to conduct it.
It is my intention to guide dedicated cadres of change agents through an intensive process of inquiry, discovery, and planning to bring to market revolutionary structures and processes for value exchange that promote a sustainable economy and have the potential to usher in a new equitable and peaceful economic paradigm.
I am willing to go wherever suitable venues might be found. I’ve considered offering this as an online course, and that can be one component of it, but I believe that the impetus toward timely and effective action requires the continuity and intensity that comes from the regular face-to-face interaction and ongoing collaboration in a classroom setting.
You can find the detailed course description and syllabus here: https://beyondmoney.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/principles-of-exchange-innovation-course-syllabus.pdf.
Prospective course participants and host institutions are invited to fill out the short form at http://wp.me/P43RA-Ea. If you know of other institutions, departments, or individuals that might be interested in participating, please pass this along to them.
My two week trip to California in October could not have been better. It started with the Living the New Economy Convergence that was held in Oakland, October 23-24, and ended with a delightful visit with my dear friends, the Lub family, in Napa and Martinez. In between, I gave another presentation at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, attended an open house at the new Oakland offices of Berrett-Kohler Publishers, and conferred with several long-time friends and colleagues.
Living the New Economy Convergence
The convergence was the best conference I’ve attended in many years—well organized, with excellent presenters, and participants that were enthusiastic, well-informed, and intelligent.
A few of the presentations, including one of my own, were recorded by Bitcoin magazine. My presentation during the panel on The Future of Value Exchange can be found in my blog post here. Links to the others can be found here, and a few photos that I took at the Convergence can be viewed on my Picasa Web gallery. If you would like to see a more detailed report on this event, check out this one on the Shareable website.
The convergence was followed by a two day “hackathon” that gave participants an opportunity to brainstorm together and propose ideas, collaborations, and business projects. Sergio Lub’s pictures from that part of the event (October 25) are on his Flickr site.
The event at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) on the evening of October 30, was very gratifying, drawing about a dozen participants, many of whom I’ve known and worked with over the past several years. My presentation titled, The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity, was followed by a lively discussion that went on for more than 2 hours. The entire proceedings were video recorded by Sergio Lub and can be seen via my blog post at BeyondMoney.net.
The day before I left to return to Arizona, Sergio and I visited our friends who run the Sonoma GoLocal project. This is an exciting project that goes well beyond the conventional “buy local” agenda.
A few years ago, Sonoma GoLocal initiated a merchant rebate program, which is gradually becoming more popular. According to Terry Garrett, about 17,000 swipe cards have been issued to consumers and there are now 53 merchants offering “Reward Points,” with each merchant choosing their own percentage rate of rebate that varies from 2% to 10%, with the median rate being 5%.
Over the past year they have experienced a growth rate of about 20% in both the number of participating merchants and the number of cardholders. Between January1 and September 30, 2014, the amount of transactions involving either issuance or redemption of Reward Points was about $3.8 million with that number expected to reach $5.5 million by year’s end. Sonoma GoLocal has been publishing both a printed pocket guide and a free bi-monthly magazine that help to make the project financially viable. You can see some photos from our meeting, including cover photos of the publications here.
I would like to make everyone aware of a major conference that is upcoming next June 4-7. This conference, to be held on the campus of Pomona College, located in Claremont, CA, is the result of several events held in conjunction (10th International Whitehead Conference, 9th International Forum on Ecological Civilization, Inaugural Pando Populus Conference, Pilgrim Place Centennial Celebration, and Process & Faith Summer Institute) and will consist of 12 Sections divided into approximately 78 Tracks. Each Track will have 8 sessions, which will be 90 minutes each.
After my meeting with renowned philosopher and theologian, John Cobb, a couple years ago, he invited me to participate in this conference which he was then helping to plan. I will be presenting in Section I, The Threatening Catastrophe: Responding Now, Track 6, Political Collapse: The Alternative. You can get all the details, and register at http://www.ctr4process.org/whitehead2015/.
My next book?, + video projects
I’m aware that in today’s information-rich environment people tend to be overloaded and getting their attention is becoming ever more difficult. Short videos on YouTube, Vimeo, or other video showcases are probably the best bet for getting a message across. I’m hoping to find someone with the requisite editing skills to help me parse some of my recorded presentations into short topical lessons. That, combined with a new book aimed at the mass market, might attract the kind of attention, and provide the essential information needed to dispel false beliefs that prevail in the minds of the general public and stimulate the kinds of fundamental structural changes that are becoming ever more urgent. I’m inclined to give this new book a provocative title, like Everything You Know About Money (And Banking) Is Wrong! It would follow a question and answer format that presents first a fundamental question, then the orthodox answer and prevalent belief, then the truth of the matter as I have come to see it.
This project is of course a major undertaking, and if it is to achieve the kinds of results hoped for, calls for some skills and resources that exceed my own. Collaborators and suggestions are invited.
Finally, on a personal note, after spending the summer in Bisbee, I’ve reestablished myself in Tucson, sharing a house on the far east side, close to the Rincon Mountains and Saguaro National Park. Though a bit distant from downtown, it is in a lovely, peaceful setting—rather ideal for creative work.
My accustomed robust health has been disturbed in recent months by some digestive difficulties. A course of medication and a combination of dietary changes and natural supplements seem to be resolving the worst of it and I’m hopeful that I’ll soon be back to normal.
Best wishes to all for a Happy Holiday Season, and may the coming year bring a great leap forward in creating a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
In June, I attended an event in Boston that signaled to me that the concept of the New Economy—and the grassroots movement behind it—had come of age.
The event was the conference of the New Economy Coalition. The halls were full of students, cooperative leaders from the deep south, climate justice activists from Native reservations, labor leaders, and others identifying with the New Economy.
Folks who had been at conferences such as this for years were also there—farmers, Main Street business owners, sustainability entrepreneurs, and big thinkers. But suddenly the movement felt bigger. A diverse set of communities is coming together in a shared recognition that our economic structures are the root cause of many different crises.
The New Economy Working Group, based at the Institute for Policy Studies, formed just six years ago. The group was one of the first to adopt the term “New Economy” to describe an economy that supports ecological balance, shared prosperity, and deep democracy. Now, many individuals and organizations are using that term.
I have been struck that even as the New Economy movement diversifies, its advocates are converging regarding the actions to take, including:
- Place ownership in the hands of real people, not globalized corporations;
- Localize control of food, energy, land, housing, retail;
- Advance cooperative enterprises where workers share in profits and decision-making;
- Shift from fossil fuels to renewables and from destructive to regenerative agriculture;
- Expand credit unions, community banks, and public banks so that finance benefits communities rather than Wall Street;
- Reform trade rules to reduce the power of global corporations and enable local economies to flourish;
- Adopt a worldview that we humans are part of the ecosystem and our economy must work with nature rather than against it.
The ideas are not new. Some are ancient. Many have been advocated for years in places deeply affected by poverty, pollution, and racism. What's changed is that so many communities are coming together under a common umbrella, forming new alliances and lifting up new messengers.The ideas are not new. Some are ancient.
For example, at a recent Praxis Peace Institute conference Michael Peck, who advocates union-cooperative alliances, told of a group of East African taxi drivers in Denver. The Communications Workers of America helped them form a taxi cooperative so they didn't have to work for an out-of-state company. The result? They increased their incomes, benefits, and well-being.
Many leaders are pointing out ways the New Economy movement can collaborate with the racial-justice movement, as Anand Jahi did in “My Cousin Was Shot Dead by a Police Officer: Here’s What it Means for the New Economy.”
As those identifying with the New Economy expand, the movement gains power. And a wider embrace brings the danger of cooptation. Corporations will be happy to put on a New Economy gloss. One already doing so is HBSC, which tags itself “The World’s Local Bank.”
To continue to grow its power and avoid cooptation, the New Economy movement must keep broadening its communities while maintaining its principles. Of special importance will be the principle that ownership of enterprises must be in the hands of real people who directly bear the consequences of their decisions, not in distant computerized markets. If the movement holds fast to its key ideas, its growing embrace can create what is truly a New Economy.
Every Christmas, my grandmother, a retired journalist and voracious reader of murder-mystery novels, used to send my parents money to buy each of my eight siblings and me a gift. The stipulation was: It had to be a book.It’s worth the extra time and effort to shop at local and independent stores.
Our “grandma book” gift tradition continues and, now, includes my three in-laws, and five nieces and nephews. The task of fulfilling seventeen book requests often falls to my dad.
Normally the great, Grinch-y grumbler this time of year, he brags that, thanks to Amazon, this is one Christmas to-do he can complete without having to leave house.
Well, this year, I’m asking my dad to do things differently, and shop locally. And luckily, the Institute for Local Self Reliance published the handy infographic below to help me explain why it’s worth the extra time and effort to shop at local and independent stores this holiday season.
Mary Hansen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Mary has a hard time staying in one place, but is known to write, edit, and be a die-hard Steelers fan. She is an online reporting intern for YES!
This month marks the 15th anniversary of the “Battle in Seattle,” the historic protest against the World Trade Organization in 1999. The author, a labor and community organizer for 31 years, was at the time director of Seattle Union Now, a joint project of the King County Labor Council and the National AFL-CIO.
“There can be no separate peace.”
If you spent any time with Tyree Scott, you probably heard him say that. It was a lesson seared into his experience through years of struggle—first, in militant closures of Seattle construction sites intended to pry open the building trades to black workers, and then, in uniting construction workers with progressive Filipino cannery workers and farmworkers.
When it came to the World Trade Organization—the international group that sets the rules of trade between nations—Tyree insisted that no single justice struggle could be resolved apart from others; we had to stand together. A union electrician by trade, Tyree played a low-key but pivotal role in the 1999 protests against the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle.At the big march downtown on Nov. 30, the two camps looked united—as long as you didn’t look too closely.
Now 15 years down the road and facing today’s tremendous challenges, contemporary workers and their allies would do well to heed Tyree’s call for unity.
This month in 1999, behind the street drama of tens of thousands of people battling police and world trade leaders, a raw, visible friction was growing within the broad movement. Would this diverse collection of protesters—aging French farmers and young anarchists, truck drivers and tree planters, radical students and cautious labor leaders—hold together, or would divisions implode the anti-WTO forces?
Intuitively, most of us involved in organizing the protests recognized that to make an impact we needed to stay united. Throughout the week, that unity was sharply tested. At times, it nearly shattered. And at a key moment, when the violent police reaction threatened to drive a wedge into the movement, Tyree intervened decisively to preserve a commitment that we would stand together, and not abide a separate peace.
You’re unlikely to read about that in any mainstream account. Tyree didn’t give dramatic speeches to thousands of people, pen famous editorials, or seek out interviews. He never pursued a position of status or broader recognition. But over his lifetime he combined a sharp internationalist working-class perspective with smart, militant action. By the time I met Tyree in the early 1990s, his organization, the prosaically named Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office, was connecting rank-and-file workers from a dozen countries in substantive discussions about how to build a worldwide workers’ movement.
Tyree had the gift of being able to pluck clarity out of complexity. Often, in the years leading up to the WTO, when I was working as a union and community organizer, I’d go visit him when I was wrestling with a vexing problem. Stocky, with graying dreadlocks and round glasses on a round face, he would sweep aside my mental gymnastics about personalities, egos, and institutional concerns, and return the issue squarely to unity and class interests. His method was always direct but empathic. I would leave these meetings slightly humbled to not have seen through the fog as deftly as he did.
For Tyree, “no separate peace” was not some gauzy paean to unity, but a battle call for rank-and-file workers to take on a fight for their class interests—against corporations, and if need be, against their putative leaders in unions. Years of struggle against black workers’ exclusion from the building trades taught him that the problem was not just employers, but also shortsighted union leaders intent on preserving narrow institutional interests.There was nothing to be gained—and now a lot to lose—by mixing with those battling the police on the streets
He was withering in his condemnation of labor leaders who sold the working class short; for Tyree “no separate peace” was a challenge to all workers to think big and speak for themselves: “The low wages and exploitation of one will pull down the wages and conditions of the other,” he said. “Any advancement of one is tied to the advancement of the other. It is in this context that makes foreign policy, trade, and immigration central issues to the labor movement,” he said, defining the labor movement as all workers, not just those who paid dues to unions.
Going into the week of protest against the WTO meeting in Seattle, the tension within the movement was palpable. There were two main camps. The more radical was the loosely formed Direct Action Network, which included a wide array of environmental and human rights activists, many of whom were steeped in the confrontational strategies of civil disobedience. The Direct Action Network rejected the legitimacy of the WTO and was committed to blockading the ministerial meeting. Unions, led by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, didn’t want to destroy the WTO, but rather to persuade the Clinton administration to give labor a seat at the negotiating table. Sweeney had affection for the younger protesters, but he was a conciliator, not a rabble-rouser. And since union leaders are more accustomed to bargaining than barricades, the question for the national AFL-CIO was, “What can we get from Clinton out of Seattle?”
And yet, at the big union-led march downtown on Nov. 30, 1999, the two camps looked united—as long as you didn’t look too closely. Colorful banners, enormous puppets, marching brass bands, and festooned delegations from around the world swarmed through the streets. Workers and environmentalists marched side by side, declaring “Teamsters and turtles, united at last.” More than 50,000 of us, from around the world and from every imaginable struggle for social or economic justice, marched united against unfettered world trade.
Union leaders were jubilant. But as the daylight faded and most of the protesters filtered out of downtown, it began to feel like we had birthed two separate movements: one that made its point and departed, and another that remained to confront the WTO and its police protectors.
I joined a group of labor leaders and organizers in a celebratory dinner Tuesday night at Ivar’s Salmon House on Lake Union.
“We’re done,” one leader declared. We’d made a powerful statement; union demands were now going to be taken seriously by President Clinton. There was nothing to be gained—and now a lot to lose—by mixing with those battling the police on the streets. We raised our glasses in a toast.
Our pagers and cell phones beeped throughout the meal, informing us of tear gas on Capitol Hill and rubber bullets and arrests downtown. Done? Especially for those of us who called Seattle home, it didn’t quite feel like that.
The following morning, Dec. 1, we joined the steelworkers’ rally on the waterfront—a city-sanctioned event outside Mayor Paul Schell’s newly declared “no-protest” zone downtown. After the last speaker had decried unfair trade, Teamsters union leader Bob Hasegawa grabbed the mic and challenged the crowd to stand up against the imposition of “martial law.”
“Brothers and sisters!” he cried. “They’re tear-gassing students downtown. Let’s-”
Someone shut the mic off on Bob.
We went anyway, probably 200 of us, and met up with a huge crowd of students at Second and Pike. Riot police in armored vehicles promptly ambushed us. Volleys of tear gas and concussive grenades sent us scattering in every direction. Police herded a group of protesters north, surrounded them just beyond the Labor Temple, and then cuffed them and bussed them off to Sandpoint Naval Yard. Union members spilled out of the Labor Temple and were appalled at the scene.
The police were angry, too; they didn’t want spectators, and they had the weapons to back up their wishes. They shoved us with nightsticks. One cop clubbed King County Labor Council leader Ron Judd. There’s nothing more radicalizing than a truncheon smack on the back of your neck. Judd returned to his office and started speed-dialing allies.Who were we, he asked, if we didn’t resist the ban on protests?
But the following day, Thursday, the movement was divided about how to respond. With Judd’s declaration that unions would fight back, movement leaders and activists had called for a mass rally at the Labor Temple for the next day—Friday at high noon. But what would we do? Enter the “no-protest” zone and risk mass arrests? Avoid provocation by marching outside the “no-protest” zone?
And what about the more than 630 people in jail, mostly young community activists and students? The debate was still unsettled Thursday night when 40 organizational leaders and activists met at the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office for a final planning session. It was a diverse lot—Direct Action Network activists, trade policy experts, radical students, Lawyers Guild representatives, union organizers, and Sierra Club staff, among others.
Some groups wanted a demonstration of unity but not anything that would provoke the police. The Direct Action Network organizers called for a march through the “no-protest” zone to the jail, to support a ‘round-the-clock vigil already underway demanding the release of the arrestees. There were many questions. How would we deal with hooligans who might try to hijack the protest with property destruction, as they had on Tuesday? Someone suggested we just do a big press conference. And what was the purpose of our action—should our focus be the WTO? Or the suspension of our right to free speech? Or the jailing of our colleagues? What are we demanding, and of whom?
For the first hour, speakers laid out their ideas, pressing their organizational positions passionately, gingerly avoiding incendiary provocations. Everyone sensed our unity was delicate. But the clock was ticking; tomorrow was coming fast.
At one point, a speaker suggested we needed to risk mass arrests. Teamster leader Steve Williamson spoke up. “Labor,” he said, “is not going to do it.”
The meeting exploded with overlapping shouting matches. Recriminations flew across the room. Suddenly, the battle lines that had simmered just below the surface all week emerged in stark relief.
“Who are you to come in here and say that?” Tyree said. “You don’t speak for labor.” Tyree had zero patience for union leaders who purported to speak for the broader working class.
In fairness to Williamson, he was as unfamiliar with the audience as they were with him. A longtime union organizer, he had absorbed more than his share of tear gas the previous night in a courageous stand with young protesters on Capitol Hill. But his words were poorly chosen, it was getting late, everyone was beyond exhaustion, and he didn’t know the group. I did, but I had my own distraction: urgent phone calls from top national AFL-CIO leaders, directing me to stop all organizing for Friday’s march. I had to step out of the meeting at a critical juncture to explain to my boss why I had no intention of cooperating with her order. This was my community; of course I would march.
Back in the room, Steve apologized. The tension lifted slightly. Perhaps the outbreak had released some of the pressure. Tyree spoke up again, more quietly. Who were we, he asked, if we didn’t resist the ban on protests, an attack on everyone’s rights? We had to march. And who was in jail? “These are workers too,” he reminded us. There could be no separate peace.We marched straight through the heart of the mayor’s “no-protest” zone.
With Tyree’s words fresh in our minds, we agreed to march downtown and then back to the Labor Temple. And, although our march would not lead to the jail as some had wanted, we agreed that anyone who wished to could go to the jail solidarity action after the march. With these plans we would be risking arrest, but if there were enough of us, and if we were disciplined, we might just succeed.
With that fragile agreement in place, we adjourned the meeting.
The next day, with jitters still reverberating in the coalition—a few unions boycotted the march, and a last-minute pullout by the Sierra Club was averted only by Judd’s emergency mediation—we marched straight through the heart of the mayor’s “no-protest” zone. On just a few hours’ notice, more than 5,000 people—teamsters, steelworkers, human rights advocates, grocery clerks, janitors, students, construction workers, faith leaders, domestic workers, office workers, retirees, health care workers, musicians, and university workers—came out to reclaim our downtown.
Chanting “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” we celebrated every delightful forbidden step down Second Avenue, left up University Street, and into the heart of downtown. We screamed as loudly and joyfully as our worn-out lungs permitted, our voices echoing through the canyons between the office buildings. Indeed, this was what democracy looked like. The police stood back. When we returned to the Labor Temple, a dance party erupted in the street.
Then we went to the jail. Hundreds of us trekked a second time across downtown, in small marches, knots of activists, or as lone pedestrians. The police dared not disturb us; we had wrecked the mayor’s ban.
We joined the hundreds of young activists already occupying the square outside the jail, giving courage to the detainees who waved their arms from behind the narrow windows and sending a message to city leaders that we wouldn’t go away until everyone was released.
Throughout the weekend, teamsters, longshore workers, construction workers, and others brought food, blankets, and tarps to the protest outside the jail. Religious leaders led an interfaith prayer service. And Judd pressed prosecutors to release the arrestees. He was a savvy negotiator, bolstered in this instance with a bit of leverage: The longshore union was threatening to shut down West Coast ports unless the jail doors were opened.
By the end of the weekend, the WTO ministerial meeting had collapsed in disarray, and our people were out of jail.
It’s easy in retrospect to trace an uncomplicated, made-for-TV narrative arc of WTO week, from the unity at the start, to the testing of our movement, to the restoration of solidarity leading to victory. But in the fog of tear gas, the cacophony of struggle, amid the raw emotions of trust and doubt, courage and fear, exuberance and exhaustion, deep compassion and blind rage, the right choices aren’t always self-evident and the path forward isn’t linear.By the end of the weekend, the WTO meeting had collapsed and our people were out of jail.
Life gets quite messy at street level. We make mistakes or allow creeping doubts to paralyze us. In a crisis, people often seek out commanding leadership to point the way; a Moses to provide clear answers, part the waters and lead us through. I’m grateful that we didn’t take that path, but rather trusted our instincts, struggled with one another, took risks, and heeded the words of a visionary worker who held no high office and sought no fame, but saw through the fog of battle and tenaciously pressed his conviction that there could be no separate peace on the streets of Seattle—or anywhere, for that matter.
Cancer stole Tyree from us in 2003, but his insistence on no separate peace provided an important lesson for our movement—one that we would do well to abide by more often today.
For five days in Seattle 15 years ago, the world watched as a popular uprising shocked world powers, teetered precariously, and—just in the nick of time—found its footing by remembering that we are all workers, and we had better stand together.
Jonathan Rosenblum wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Jonathan is a longtime labor and community organizer.
- The WTO and the Myth of Activist Violence
- Young Climate Marchers: Support From Boomers Makes Us Feel Less Alone
Bank of Japan announces plan for massive inflation of the Yen, as US Fed curtails dollar monetization (QE). What does it mean for you?
A recent article in the Guardian (UK) reports that the Japanese central bank has announced plans to “inject ¥80tn (£447bn) a year into the financial system, mainly through the purchase of government bonds, in a bid to ward off the threat of deflation.”
Thus, Japan takes over much of the burden of keeping a flawed global money system alive, as the US central bank (the Federal Reserve) ends its own program of dollar inflation.
Bloomberg provides a “quick take” on the FED policy saying, “It was the biggest emergency economic stimulus in history and now it’s over. The U.S. Federal Reserve’s once-in-a-lifetime program to buy immense piles of bonds, month after month, in an extraordinary effort to restart a recession-deadened economy came to an end in October after adding more than $3.5 trillion to the Fed’s balance sheet – an amount roughly equal to the size of the German economy. The bond-buying program, called quantitative easing or QE, had been controversial since its start in 2009, as had the Fed’s decision in 2013 to gradually reduce the monthly economic boost, a plan that became known as the taper. Whether the Fed tapered too soon, given global economic weakness, or too late, given signs of bubbles in some markets, was hotly debated. But even after the taper’s end the Fed continued to pump support into the economy the old-fashioned way, by holding its interest rates near zero.”
As I’ve pointed out before, “Quantitative easing” is simply a euphemism for inflation of the currency (mainly by central banks buying government bonds and other uncollectable debt). Other things being equal, currency inflation eventually leads to price inflation. But other things are not equal. The US has indeed seen significant inflation of prices in some sectors, especially food, but other prices are being kept down, primarily because of layoffs and underemployment, leaving consumers with lower incomes and reduced purchasing power. If income from wages and interest on savings are held down, people must either do without or borrow more money to maintain their levels of spending. The following table from the Federal Reserve shows the growth in consumer credit over the past few years.Consumer Credit Outstanding ($ Billions) 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
As of 8/31 2,552.8 2,647.4 2,755.9 2,923.6 3,097.9 3,225.3
These figures cover most short- and intermediate-term credit extended to individuals, excluding loans secured by real estate.
Those figures show a more than a 26% increase in consumer credit just over the past four and one half years, much of it high-interest credit card debt. Although credit card debt has declined somewhat from its 2009 peak, according to nerdwallet.com, falling indebtedness is largely due to defaults rather than repayment.
The same site reports that, in total, American consumers owe:
- $11.63 trillion in debt, an increase of 3.8% from last year
- $880.5 billion in credit card debt
- $8.07 trillion in mortgages
- $1,120.3 billion in student loans, an increase of 11.5% from last year
Central banks find currency inflation necessary in order to offset the reductions in the money supply caused by charging interest on money that banks create when they make “loans.” There is never enough money in circulation to enable repayment of the aggregate of principal plus accrued interest of money created as bank “loans.” Thus the “natural” tendency of the usury-based debt-money system is toward deflation. Central governments then must become the borrowers of last resort and central banks become the lenders of last resort as bankers and politicians continue their absurd dance that is a death spiral of recurrent and ever more extreme financial crises.
The real solution to our monetary, financial, and economic problems is to end the usury-based debt-money system. But the bankers, the rulers of the world, will not stand for that. By control of the money creation process, they have extended their power to tightly control the political process, as well. Thus, the wealth and purchasing power of the vast majority of people will continue to decline as the system continues to pump up the wealth and power of the few who control the money system, and their minions.
According to the Fed, between 2010 and 2013, “mean (overall average) family income rose 4 percent in real terms, but median income fell 5 percent, consistent with increasing income concentration during this period.” And “Families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in average real incomes between 2010 and 2013, continuing the trend observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys.”
So, what can people and communities do to counter these trends and regain control of their economic fortunes and enhance their political power?
Considering the dynamics of power that prevail in the so-called democratic countries today, reliance on the political process to effect systemic reforms seems futile. So, while it is necessary to continue to protest the status quo and reframe the political dialog, it is even more important to take action to rebuild society from the bottom upward. We must reduce our dependence upon the very systems that are being used to disempower us, of which the political money system is foremost.
That is not so daunting as it might first appear, and conceptually it is not very complicated. It is what my work of the past quarter century as been all about. The biggest difficulties have had to do with dispelling erroneous myths about money and banking and helping people to see beyond the orthodox. This, and the lack of adequate tools have retarded the process of taking promising alternatives to scale, but that is quickly changing as new technologies that enable moneyless trading become available.
But don’t sit idly by waiting for things to happen “out there.” Start with your own personal development and empowerment, while working to strengthen your various communities and networks, your city, state, and region. Some tips to get you started can be found here. –t.h.g.
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The small city of Immokalee, Florida, provides produce to millions of people. It’s one of the country’s agricultural hubs, but with an average per capita income of $9,518, the majority of residents—many of whom are farmworkers—live well below the national poverty level.
“The wealth doesn’t stay here with us.”
That’s Lucas Benitez, founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and a former farmworker, in the new film Food Chains. The documentary, by director Sanjay Rawal and executive producers Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser, follows the Coalition’s fight for human rights and fair wages for tomato pickers. “There is more interest in food these days than ever,” the filmmakers write on the film’s website. “Yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it.”
Rawal, who spent 15 years working in the nonprofit industry and several years abroad, was aware of the routine human rights abuses against agricultural workers overseas. “I had no idea that these same abuses could be happening here,” he told me. “I knew I couldn’t just focus on the problem, I had to focus on the solution.”
For Rawal, the most promising path out of this kind of exploitation comes from the Coalition’s strategy of organizing workers at the bottom to revolutionize entire supply chains.
In the 1990s, Benitez and a small group of other tomato pickers founded the Coalition to create a safer working environment in Florida’s fields and raise farmworkers' pay. In addition to winning wage increases, the group has been instrumental in fighting sexual exploitation, violence, human trafficking, and debt bondage on farms.
Many tomato pickers live in trailers with up to 16 other people during the growing season, since rent is otherwise unaffordable. Until recently, when Coalition organizers succeeded in increasing their pay, workers received 50 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they picked—a pay-per-piece practice that’s a holdover from slavery, according to the film. Pickers’ wages usually amount to less than $50 a day, and they work long hours under the constant threat of sexual assault and abuse. Because many are undocumented, crimes against them often go unreported.
In 2011, the Coalition launched the Fair Food Program, an project aimed at getting corporations to pay farmers an additional cent for every pound of tomatoes purchased. The program also demands that allegations of abuse and sexual assault on the farms are taken seriously.
Many large companies have already signed on—some of them after tenacious, drawn-out campaigning by Coalition members. Whole Foods, Subway, Walmart, and Chipotle are among several corporations that now comply with Fair Food Program standards.
Now, upwards of 80,000 Florida farmworkers—about 90 percent of the state’s total—are receiving the benefits of these protections. But Food Chains largely focuses on Publix, a major regional grocery chain in Florida, which has refused to meet with Coalition members or join the Fair Food Program, despite public pressure.
Part of what makes the Fair Food Program so successful is that the additional cost for tomatoes is offset to consumers: Since it’s distributed among millions of buyers, each family pays just pennies more per year. Plus, the program holds producers accountable: If they’re found guilty of inappropriately handling a case of sexual assault or abuse, for example, partner companies can’t buy their produce. In other words, if workers report an issue and a supplier in Florida doesn’t address it, that supplier won’t be able to sell to Subway or Whole Foods. Janice R. Fine, a labor relations professor at Rutgers, called it “the best workplace-monitoring program I’ve seen in the U.S.” earlier this year in The New York Times.
Julia de la Cruz, a Coalition member, says farmers are already seeing the benefits of the program. Workers now have a right to take breaks, to leave the farm when they feel threatened, and to report cases of sexual assault or abuse without fear of retaliation.
According to de la Cruz, farms are enforcing a zero tolerance policy against sexual assault. There have been cases where women have reported abuse, and those supervisors were investigated and fired. And that additional penny per pound of tomatoes? It’s a “significant economic relief for our workers, and our community,” she told me.
Rawal sees this fight in the American tomato industry as part of a bigger global issue. “More than 95 percent of the products that we purchase come through a supply chain system,” he said. And other, non-agricultural workers who produce for major retailers—like the Gap and Walmart—face very similar issues at the bottom of their respective supply chains.
Rawal and and his colleagues believe the Coalition’s model of grassroots organizing can be a solution for workers all over the world.
“This is not a film about oppression,” executive producer Eva Longoria told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes this week. “It’s actually about transformation.”
Watch the interview below. Food Chains opens on November 21. Click here to find out about screenings near you.
Nur Lalji wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Nur is a contributor to YES! based in the Seattle area. Follow her on Twitter at @nuralizal.
Thomas Greco’s presentation at the Living the New Economy convergence, Oakland, CA, October 23, 2014
At the recent Living the New Economy convergence in Oakland, I was the first speaker on a panel that addressed the question of the Future of Value Exchange. Here it is below:
If you would like to download the slide deck of that presentation, you can get it here. I had only enough time to show the first 15 slides; the other were included for possible discussion.
You can also find some of my other presentations and interviews on my YouTube playlist.
You can find video recordings of several other sessions from Living the New Economy convergence here.
Borrowers could use the support of their government, but U.S. policymakers don’t seem to see student debt through the same moral lens as officials in many other countries do. Can you imagine Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, for example, arguing that “Tuition fees are socially unjust,” as German member of Parliament Dorothee Stapelfeldt told The Times of London? Or even, as she went on to say, that, “[fees] particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies”?
Instead, higher education is peddled as the ticket to economic security by the federal government, commercial lenders, and universities—no matter the cost. Policies that would reduce the fear of unemployment, like the Job Guarantee programs supported by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and demanded by Martin Luther King Jr., might make it more feasible for young people to opt out of college. Yet policymakers in the United States seem unwilling to consider such options.
Thus, as sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, many young Americans, especially people of color, are desperate for higher education. Yet day by day, the student-debt status quo taxes borrowers while doing less and less to subsidize social mobility.
But the worst part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. To put it bluntly, there is no fiscal reason why the U.S. student debt crisis should exist.
At a basic level, the U.S. federal government doesn’t need to scrimp and save to fully fund higher education. It can just spend money rather than lend it, without incurring any significant negative economic consequences. Although I’d love to reduce spending on, say, prisons, the federal government doesn’t even need to take money out of other programs in order to alleviate student debt.
You may find this argument hard to believe. The way most politicians and journalists talk about the national debt and deficit spending makes free higher education sound impossible. But there’s another way of looking at the problem, a vision advocated by a growing movement of economists, lawyers, students, and financial practitioners who deal with the institutional nuts and bolts of the economy on a day-to-day basis.
Uncle Sam can’t go broke
When progressives advocate for more federal spending on education, the rejoinder is often something like: “OK, but how are you going to pay for it?” Progressives then either fall silent or perform fiscal gymnastics.
But we shouldn’t bow to those discussion terms.Uncle Sam isn't broke. In fact, the U.S. federal government can't go broke.
First things first: Uncle Sam isn’t broke. In fact, the U.S. federal government can’t go broke. Up until August 1971, the amount of dollars in the world was pegged to the amount of gold in federal vaults. But it hasn’t been that way since we left the gold standard four decades ago. When Congress spends, the Treasury simply asks the Federal Reserve to add or remove money from bank accounts with keystrokes. The dollars don’t come from anywhere else. Unlike a business or a household, the federal government spends money into existence.
From this perspective, the U.S. ceased to be capable of “going broke.” Many economists known as “deficit owls ” have argued for decades that the U.S. federal government doesn’t need tax revenues or bond payments in order to spend money on education or anything else. Rather, the true limits to federal spending are the availability of real resources and the stability of prices. Noted hippies like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve have all publicly stated as much.
The fiscal framework of the U.S. government is thus different from that of, say, Detroit—which cannot print its own dollars—or Greece, which now uses euros and can no longer print drachmas. As Warren Buffet stated in 2011, “We’ve got the right to print our own money. That’s the key.”
So why do politicians and others keep insisting that the U.S. government can’t afford to spend money on education? The notion reflects a confused picture of how our economy actually works.
When people think of federal spending, they often imagine that the government collects money from taxpayers and foreign investors (i.e., China), and then redistributes it for various purposes.
But this picture doesn’t reflect how things are really done. The federal government instead spends money into the real economy and drains it via taxes and bonds.
Imagine the economy as a sink full of dishes, with the federal government in control of a tap. In order for us to do the dishes, we need enough water but not so much that our sink overflows. To keep the sink from overflowing, we can open a drain, which removes water from the sink. This is the main macroeconomic function of federal taxes: to drain money from the economy and thus prevent inflation.Education spending, lending, and inflation
Despite what politicians often say, pumping more money into the economy by running a deficit does not necessarily cause inflation—that is, a general, continuous rise in prices across the economy.
Rather, enduring effects on prices depend upon many factors, including where money goes and what kind of demand it stimulates. Notably, in modern U.S. history, inflation has typically arisen from actions taken by parties other than the U.S. government. For example, inflation during the 1970s can be chiefly attributed to OPEC spiking oil prices, which exacerbated commodity speculation and caused wages and prices to spiral in other sectors. Federal spending was not the culprit.
Inflation can occasionally result from “too much money chasing too few goods.” But as any credible economic forecaster will tell you, this is not a salient concern for the U.S. economy right now.
In any case, worries about inflation aren’t particularly relevant to a change in funding for higher education. It’s important to remember that the government is already pumping new money into the higher education sector; it just does it in the form of loans instead of spending.
Just as importantly, private banks are also creating new “money” every day via student loans, with few people ringing the inflation alarm. As the Bank of England recently detailed, private banks in the modern era do not lend pre-existing funds, but instead create credit “out of thin air” as they lend. When you receive a loan, the bank places funds in your account, simultaneously expanding both the asset and liability sides of its own balance sheet. Again, the dollars don’t come from anywhere—they’re new.There’s no good reason for students’ pockets to be shallow when the government’s are deep.
The point is, if you’re not worried about lending causing inflation right now, you shouldn’t be worried about robust government spending causing inflation either.
So if there’s no economic harm from public funding for higher education, why do young people like 24-year-old Nathan Hornes have college degrees, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, but no full-time job?
As Stephanie Kelton, chair of the economics department at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, recently argued in a seminar on student debt, the problem is “austerity memes” and related myths about inflation. Instead of funding education like a public good, the government is going in the wrong direction, spending almost 10 percent less on total federal aid now than it did in 2010.
Who should owe whom?
If money should be owed for higher education at all, perhaps the federal government should owe us. After all, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution entrusts the federal government with a monopoly to create, spend, and regulate money for the “general welfare of the United States.” And in the era of modern money, there’s no good economic reason for students’ pockets to be so shallow when the government’s are so deep.
When the federal government lists a deficit, that indicates a surplus for American citizens, as well as foreign businesses that sell us goods. In other words, the government’s red ink is the public’s black ink. Despite what organizations with wholesome and appealing names like Fix the Debt, The Can Kicks Back, and Up To Us, might claim, the “national debt” is not a burden for young people. Indeed, advocating for smaller federal deficits hurts student debtors. Even in the future, it offers them no tangible benefits.
As the Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson once acknowledged, the “superstition” that the budget must be balanced at all times is part of an “old fashioned religion,” meant to hush people who might otherwise demand the government create more money. Young people should beware of anyone who tells them that their chief worry for the future is the government’s debt, rather than their own.
Raúl Carrillo wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Raúl is a student at Columbia Law and a graduate of Harvard College. He is a co-organizer for The Modern Money Network (MMN), an interdisciplinary educational initiative for understanding money, finance, law, and the economy. Follow him at @ramencents.
A recent article, Evo Morales: A Bolivian idol, posted on the Aljazeera website, quotes the Bolivian president as saying,
“I have no regrets – in fact, I am pleased to have expelled the US ambassador, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and to have closed the US military base in Bolivia. Now, without a US ambassador, there is less conspiracy, and more political stability and social stability. Without the International Monetary Fund, we are better off economically.”
Bold action, indeed. Read the full article here.
Thomas Greco’s Presentation at The Institute of Noetic Sciences: The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity
On October 30, 2014, I gave a presentation, titled, The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity, at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, California.
I was greatly encouraged by the high caliber of those who attended and the quality and intensity of the discussion that followed.
The proceedings were video recorded by organizer and master networker, Sergio Lub, and can be viewed at this Vimeo site.
This article originally appeared at the Field Guide to a Regenerative Economy.
In the summers of 2012 and 2013 a group of college students and recent grads bicycled across America. They visited cooperatives, honed their own cooperative skills, re-imagined the country they were about to inherit, and, along the way, discovered themselves. Here is their story.
In the 2012 U.N.-declared “International Year of Cooperatives,” a collective of college students created a project called Co-Cycle. They were 12 friends who wanted to experience the nation that they were to inherit. They wanted to spend the summer traveling across the United States and they wanted to do it by bicycle. What were they looking for? Cooperatives.They visited over 60 cooperative businesses and learned about the co-ops’ structures, struggles, and strengths.
In rural, urban, conservative, and progressive communities, the Co-Cycle riders visited food co-ops, credit unions, worker-owned factories, electric co-ops, producer farming co-ops … the list goes on.
They biked through cities, suburbs, and towns, through grazing fields, cornfields, and oilfields, over mountains, rivers, and streams. They visited more than 60 cooperative businesses and learned about the co-ops’ structures, struggles, and strengths. As a working collective themselves, they applied that knowledge to face their own challenges in organizing and living democratically. Many of the riders have said that the biking was the easiest part and that working through the emotional struggles with the clarity, love, and dignity required to function as a cooperative was the greater challenge.
Two of the founding members, Megan Meo and Katie Coupe, were inspired to form Co-Cycle while on a long bike ride in western Massachusetts. They happened upon a sweet little food co-op and had a wonderful time learning about the community there and the workings of the co-op. They decided it was so wonderful, in fact, that they wanted to bike across the whole country doing just that: learning about democratic business models and about the people and places that uphold them.
Co-Cycle became an endorsed project of the United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives. Co-Cycle worked with the National Cooperative Business Association and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives to turn the students’ vision into a reality.
As more friends signed on, the collective gained momentum and organizing power. Over the next 10 months, the students fundraised, created a brand, developed marketing materials, organized co-op visits and events, and planned out the basic route. When they arrived in San Francisco at the beginning of the summer, it was the first time many of them had met, but together they set off on an incredible journey—not yet quite understanding just how together in living, working, organizing, and learning they would be over the next three months.
On June 1, 2012, the 12 cyclists left San Francisco to begin a 4,100 mile journey to Amherst, Massachusetts. They were accompanied by a 3-person film crew led by Emma Thatcher, a student at New York University and a close friend of one of the organizers. The cyclists’ journey was documented by this student and was released as a full-length documentary, To the Moon, released in 2014. [You can view clips from "To the Moon," the first above, and also here.]Working through the emotional struggles with the clarity, love, and dignity required to function as a cooperative was the greater challenge than biking.
Deeply inspired by the cooperatives they visited, the people they'd met, and the country they'd seen with new eyes, five of the students decided to keep Co-Cycle living on for at least one more year. After putting out a plug for applications, they invited seven more riders to join the collective and complete another cross-country tour visiting cooperatives in 2013. The seven riders were all women and current college students or recent college graduates. They biked from Seattle, Washington, to Boston, Massachusetts, and visited many of the same towns, people, and cooperatives as the summer before, but every experience was new. Although they followed a similar route, in joining the collective these women created their own Co-Cycle.
Many members of the Co-Cycle collective have since gone on to do work for more regenerative communities and a more democratic economy. They all hold the values and inspiration gained from our summer deep within their persons, and these will guide them along their life journeys.
Hendrix Berry wrote this article for Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy, where it originally appeared. The Field Guide, a project of the Capital Institute, is a growing body of work that now includes more than 20 graphically and digitally enhanced stories of exemplary sustainable businesses on its website. Hendrix was a Co-Cyclist on the 2013 tour.
This interview of Thomas Greco was conducted and recorded by award wining documentary filmmaker, Marie-Monique Robin, during the 2nd International Conference on Complementary Currency Systems in The Hague, Netherlands in June, 2013. In English with French subtitles.
The ER doctor looked grave as he pulled his stool close to the hospital bed where I was sitting with my husband and two small children. “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this. There’s no easy way.” As a family physician, I recognized those words: We’re trained to warn someone before we tell them bad news. Then I realized he was saying I’d had two strokes.I can’t talk about federal nutrition assistance, or my first experience using it, without smiling.
In that one brief moment, my life completely changed.
I had no cognitive problems and was able to flawlessly inject a steroid into a patient’s knee just days after my strokes, but I struggled with dizziness and fatigue. Instead of taking my children on play dates to the zoo, I needed to sleep 18 hours a day and would get dizzy while driving. I couldn’t change a diaper and didn’t have the stamina to fix a meal. My husband became my caretaker as well as the primary parent for our children.
I had spent my time after residency having babies, not getting rich. My husband had worked to support me through school. He went to college during my residency. When we started a family, it made financial sense for him to stay home and care for our kids while I worked. Now I didn’t have the energy to drive to work, much less see enough patients to support my family and my own mounting medical costs.
I’d recently opened a “hobby” practice with no staff and low overhead to meet the medical needs of area families who didn’t have access to care. I was able to keep working there as I recovered and gained stamina. We knew that in the long run this would be what got our family out of poverty, but initially it didn’t provide enough income for us to scrape by.
It took a couple of months for us to realize our true situation. We’re both educated. We couldn’t possibly be “poor” or need “assistance.” But as we found ourselves choosing between rice, oatmeal, or potatoes for every meal, it occurred to us that being in poverty isn’t about how hard you work; it’s about how much money you make.We’re both educated. We couldn’t possibly be “poor” or need “assistance.”
We applied for assistance and, three months after my strokes, I received a phone call notifying me that our family qualified for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), i.e., food stamps. I was so excited! “We’ll have food,” I thought. “Good food! And medical care!” The average person receives SNAP benefits for less than a year; we were off SNAP in 18 months. Many people with strokes end up completely disabled, so I know we are blessed.
People often assume that our first shopping trip would have been demeaning or sad to me. On the contrary, I can’t talk about federal nutrition assistance, or my first experience using it, without smiling.
“I have a surprise!” I announced to my son. “We’re going to go buy a lot of food!”
He squealed. “Can we get a watermelon?”
“Yes!” I replied with delight. “Yes, whatever you want!” He also demanded cucumbers, apples, and chocolate ice cream.
Walking through the store and loading food into the cart seemed surreal to me. Cheap food is brown. Our cart was filled with a rainbow of foods, many of which my baby daughter had never eaten before. She may not have understood, but she knew the rest of us were excited. She giggled as she hugged the cucumbers to her chest. The checker smiled and asked if we were celebrating someone’s birthday.
“No,” I replied. We’re excited to have food.”
Dr. Robin Dickinson wrote this article for The End of Poverty, the Fall 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. She is a physician in Colorado and mother of two children. Her family was forced to deplete its savings after she suffered two strokes and couldn’t work. Food stamps helped to feed them during her recovery.
This time of year, the fabric that separates our world from prowling ghouls is at its thinnest. But what really keeps us at YES! Magazine up at night are the international trade agreements constantly being negotiated by the United States and its partners—each one more terrifying than the last.These deals have a way of favoring corporations over people.
How can something as pleasant-sounding as “free trade” be more threatening than a zombie apocalypse? The devil’s in the details, and the fine print on some of these agreements is enough to curdle a bucket of blood.
Whether it’s blocking a ban on chocolate-flavored cigarettes marketed to kids, or rolling back post-2008 regulations on Wall Street, these deals have a way of favoring corporations over people. They’re not popular, as you might imagine, and in some cases people’s movements have been able to stop them in their tracks. In response, proponents of the deals have attempted to slip under the radar by conducting negotiations in secret.
Here are four of the scariest deals—and why they're so abominable.
The World Trade Organization, created in 1995 as a re-imagining of an earlier group called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, is the mother of all trade bodies and sets the rules for the flow of goods and services between countries. The WTO claims its goal is to “improve the welfare of the peoples of the member countries.” But critics say what it really does is force poor nations to open their markets to wealthier ones, who themselves often bend the WTO’s rules.
The WTO also gives companies a place to complain about regulations enacted by democratically elected governments. It has found fault with laws protecting public health, the environment, workers' rights, and other things that would affect industries’ bottom line. Recent rulings have objected to producers labeling certain kinds of tuna as “dolphin safe;” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ban on sweet-flavored cigarettes that entice kids; and labels that inform consumers what country meat products originated in. The WTO says such labels violate the rights of Mexican and Canadian farmers to a level playing field. The United States sometimes refuses to comply—but risks trade sanctions when it does so.
Perhaps most frightening of all, the WTO (along with NAFTA) has spawned a whole new brood of bilateral and regional deals that take the same approach to trade and development.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, if approved, would promote trade between the United States and the European Union.
The deal has some bright spots—for example, it would universalize the plugs for electric cars. But American negotiators are also pushing hard to overturn Europe’s ban on imports of U.S.-grown genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, European negotiators and bankers are trying to set Wall Street free from regulations passed after the financial crisis of 2008. According to the nonprofit research group Public Citizen, they want to roll back the Volcker Rule, which restricts U.S. banks from the riskiest investments, and to block efforts to limit the size of banks.
When President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1993, he sold it to the people of the United States as a job creator. “NAFTA means jobs,” he said. “American jobs, and good-paying American jobs.”
More than 20 years later, the agreement’s dark side is showing. The U.S. government’s own Trade Adjustment Assistance program acknowledges that nearly 900,000 workers in the United States have officially lost their jobs due to the relocation of businesses to Canada or Mexico under NAFTA. Meanwhile, exports of cheap U.S. corn have damaged the livelihoods of Mexican farmers and driven huge waves of migration. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Mexican-born people living in the United States more than doubled from 4.5 million to 9.8 million.
The Trans Pacific Partnership, if approved, would unite 12 Pacific Rim countries into the world’s largest free trade area, comprising 40 percent of the global economy. When he spoke about the TPP in 2011, President Barack Obama, who has made the deal's passage a major objective of his administration, sounded a lot like Clinton in 1993. Obama said the deal “will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports, and creating more jobs for our people.”
But leaked sections of the agreement’s secret text show the TPP taking more controversial stances—and it has its tentacles on a breathtaking variety of issues. On health care, U.S. negotiators seem to be working at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, trying to extend the rights of patent-holders to charge more money for medicines. On labor, the TPP makes it easier for companies to move manufacturing to low-wage Vietnam, but offers no enforceable provisions to prevent abuse. On the environment, it preserves the status quo, doing little to prevent the illegal logging and overfishing that are taxing the forests and oceans of the region.
Last but not least, advocates of a free Internet are up in arms over sections in the TPP’s intellectual property chapter they say would significantly diminish the free speech rights of web users.
James Trimarco wrote this article and Marc Palm created the comics for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. James is a web editor at YES! and you can follow him at @JamesTrimarco. Marc is an un-schooled artist who has been self-publishing comics and graphically designing since the mid-90's. Find more of his work at marcpalm.carbonmade.com.
A recent Bloomberg news item reports that some major retailers are dropping Apple Pay, not because they don’t like the new technology of smartphone payments, but because they have a plan of their own. Here is an excerpt:
“Objections to Apple Pay aren’t actually about convenience, reliability, or security—they are about a burgeoning war between a consortium of merchants, led by Walmart, and the credit card companies. Rite Aid, CVS, Walmart, Best Buy, and about 50 other retailers have been working on their own mobile payments system, called CurrentC. Unlike Apple Pay, which works in conjunction with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, CurrentC cuts out the credit card networks altogether. The benefit to the merchants is clear: They would save the swipe fees they now pay to the credit card companies, which average about 2 percent of the cost of transactions.”
Read the full article here,
On Thursday, October 30 I will present, The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). in Petaluma, California. If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay area or northern counties you might want to attend. Details can be found here.Please RSVP here.
In my 2001 book, Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, I included a description of a proposed community currency I call Youth Employment Scrip.
This currency design is intended to provide the local community with a supplemental means of payment based on the labor that young people can provide to local businesses, non-profits, and government agencies, that normally could not afford to hire them.
Combined with presently available employment agency services, such a plan could help reduce youth unemployment while providing the entire community with additional liquidity that will help local businesses to sell some of their unused capacity.
For a complete description, you can view or download the entire chapter here: Money Chapter 22 YES
While many companies were cutting jobs during the recession, worker owned co-ops were growing and hiring employees. Not only do workers own a part of the business, but they are involved in decisions, and share responsibilities.
This video, a trailer from a collaboration between GRITtv and the Toolbox for Education and Social Action, highlights the difficulties in developing a worker owned co-op, but those difficulties do not outweigh the benefits. A community develops in the workplace where co-op members support one another.
LA School District Uses Its Spending Power to Support Local Farms, Workers’ Rights, and Kids’ Nutrition
We face two equally urgent and significant crises: rising inequality and climate change. Rising inequality is not only morally unacceptable; it also hinders economic growth. Climate change is already impacting every part of the country, with low-income communities and communities of color getting hit first and worst. Fighting these two battles will require a fundamental economic shift that will push us to rethink how our economy is built and where it is grown. Building strong local economies combats inequality because it creates and maintains wealth in local communities, and is an underused tool in the fight against climate change.Since 2011, the school district has redirected roughly $60 million to local farmers and workers.
Local economies can be strengthened by creating demand for goods and services through the large purchasing power of local institutions, such as local government and “anchor institutions,” like hospitals, universities, etc.
Instead of outsourcing services and goods to companies that are out of state or even out of the region, those institutions can look locally to meet their needs. Local businesses then spring up to meet that demand for food, services, and products, and wealth is created and maintained on the local level, which leads to more equitable, sustainable growth. Developing local economies is particularly important for low-income communities and communities of color, who suffer from underinvestment and a lack of resources.
In California the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district, uses its purchasing power to support small businesses and farmers, and encourage high-quality job creation. In 2011, the board of education made formal its preference for local products, those that originate within 200 miles. Shortly afterward, the school district signed the “Good Food Purchasing Pledge,” a cross-sector initiative developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council that looks to improve access to healthy, affordable, sustainable food. The L.A. city government has also signed the pledge.
Since 2011, the school district has doubled the percentage of its food budget that it spends locally, resulting in roughly $60 million redirected to local farmers, processors, warehouses, distributors, and workers. The Good Food Purchasing Pledge is the first procurement policy—rules related to how organizations process goods and services—to tie better nutrition and local sourcing to local economic development, worker’s rights, fair wages, and workplace safety.
The strong purchasing power of the school district helps create jobs and keep resources within communities. For example, Buena Vista Food Products, located in Azusa, a largely Latino city in east Los Angeles County, doubled its business from a district order for 4 million servings of baked goods. Last year, the company created 100 jobs and invested $1 million in equipment.
Laura Trujillo, Buena Vista’s president, told the L.A. Times, "We haven't sold this much in the history of our company. Working with L.A. [schools] has completely changed the way we purchase and produce.""We're trying to both transform the food supply chain and create good jobs."
The procurement pledge ranks suppliers on a point system based on five categories: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition. The more values a supplier practices, the higher the rank. Small local farms with fair-trade certification or social responsibility policies earn additional points, as do unionized farms or worker-owned cooperatives. A small, local, organic, unionized farm would score even higher. Points are also given to businesses run by women, people of color, and veterans.
"Our focus has been on public institutions that serve high-need populations," said Alexa Delwiche, managing director of the L.A. Food Policy Council. "We're trying to both transform the food supply chain and create good jobs, while also serving populations that have the least access to highest-quality foods."
Other cities and states are also providing incentives for local purchasing. Forty-six states have passed or proposed some kind of farm-to-school legislation. L.A.’s pledge, however, goes beyond just farms and is the gold standard of using purchasing power to support local economies.
Changing how demand is created and where supply is provided keeps opportunity localized, which allows low-income communities and communities of color to participate in green entrepreneurship, job creation, and wealth building. As seen in Los Angeles, equitable growth through localizing procurement and economic development is good for the economy, communities, and the climate.
J. Mijin Cha is an Associate Director at PolicyLink and a participant of The OpEd Project Global Policy Solutions Greenhouse.
This article was produced by a partnership between YES! Magazine and the New Economy Coalition as a part of the second annual New Economy Week, an event exploring what it will take to build an economy that works for people, place, and planet. To learn more, visit New Economy Week.
Read this next:
- Investing in Renewables Can Relieve Our Planet—While Reviving Our Economy
- More perspectives on the topic of: "The new economy is close to home"
“I grew up without running water,” Nichole Alex, a young woman from Dilkon, Ariz., says in a video released by the activist group Black Mesa Water Coalition. Alex grew up on the Navajo reservation in the rural Black Mesa region of Arizona, where for decades a controversial coal mine emptied the region’s aquifer, leaving local wells dry.Many climate justice activists are refusing to be limited by the “jobs or the environment” dichotomy.
“I grew up traveling 20 miles to gather water,” Alex continues. “That’s not fair, that my community is being sacrificed to power the valley here.”
In 1970, the Peabody Coal Company began mining on the reservation. Although tribal members were initially enthusiastic about the jobs the mine would provide, over time the relationship grew rocky. The company built a coal slurry pipeline that cut straight through the reservation and pumped billions of gallons of water from the Navajo Aquifer. Peabody mixed the water with coal and pumped the fluid mixture to a power plant in Nevada where the coal was burned to generate electricity for the nearby cities of Phoenix and Tucson, as well as other parts of the Southwest. But local people like Alex were left without access to water.
It’s a story echoed around the country: From the East Bay in California to the mountains of Appalachia, fossil fuel companies have drilled, burned, and mined their way into towns, cities, and rural areas—especially communities of color, as well as indigenous and low-income ones—disrupting the lives of people and damaging the environment.
But local residents have fought back. In 2001, Navajo and Hopi youth created the Black Mesa Water Coalition to stop the depletion of the Navajo Aquifer. They educated their peers and neighbors about the problem, and eventually persuaded the Navajo Tribal Council to cut off Peabody Coal’s access to the aquifer. That work, combined with a lawsuit that charged Peabody with violation of the Clean Air Act, helped to force the shutdown of the Black Mesa coal mine in 2005.
The problem with that outcome was that it left many residents of the reservation without jobs. About 300 Navajo and Hopi people had worked for Peabody, according to the advocacy group Cultural Survival . Efforts by the Black Mesa Water Coalition and its allies to create green jobs through traditional livelihoods, like wool-making and farming, have made only a small dent in the unemployment rate, which hovers around 50 percent. Furthermore, the land where the coal mine had been is not suitable for living or farming.“Our economic system is fundamentally opposed to a livable future.”
The story of Black Mesa illustrates a realization that is sweeping through the network of organizations, individuals, and coalitions working to fight global warming: While the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, simply shutting down these industries leaves workers and their families behind, and often result in a familiar conflict over “jobs versus the environment.” That in turn prevents many workers and low-income groups from joining the fight against climate change—something movement leaders say they cannot afford.
The late Tony Mazzocchi, a labor leader with roots in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, advocated the rejection of this dichotomy and called on environmentalists to lobby for what he deemed a “just transition” in situations when environmental policies eliminate jobs. As the Institute for Policy Studies’ Chuck Collins recently wrote in YES!, a just transition “would offer benefits far beyond the pitiful job retraining programs included in trade agreements like NAFTA.”
Now, many climate justice activists are picking up on Mazzocchi’s idea and refusing to be limited by the “jobs or the environment” dichotomy. Among them is Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, co-director of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance. The alliance is a network of 35 organizations working at the intersection of job creation and environmental protection in places like Black Mesa, where residents have been resisting oil rigs, gas wells, and coal plants, in some cases for decades. These organizations create projects that provide stable livelihoods, protect fragile environments, and, ultimately, help speed the transition away from fossil fuels.
“The central solutions to address the climate crisis are not actually going to come from looking up and counting carbon in the atmosphere,” Mascarenhas-Swan said. “They are going to come from remaking the economy, which is the root of this struggle.”“We need an economy that restores the health of our people and the health of our land.”
Few have thought more about just how to go about doing that than the 130 member organizations in the New Economy Coalition, which are a part of some would call the “new economy movement.” For many years, these groups have been building worker-owned cooperatives, land trusts, and community financial institutions, all designed to keep wealth local and provide good jobs. Eli Feghali, the coalition’s director of communications and online organizing, says that his members are starting to converge on the same vision as climate justice organizers.
“Folks have been imagining alternatives to capitalism for centuries,” Feghali said. “But a new context is emerging, the center of which is the climate crisis. Our economic system is fundamentally opposed to a livable future.”
Feghali says new economy groups can contribute to the push for a just transition by helping groups like the Black Mesa Water Coalition start worker-owned cooperatives and by lobbying for policies that support cooperative economies.
The new economy movement has some work to do in the way of diversity and representation of people of color and those from low-income areas, Feghali acknowledges. But, he says, “the good news is that these groups are already building alternatives and providing leadership.”
That leadership can been seen back in Arizona, where the Black Mesa Water Coalition is moving forward on a 1- to 5-megawatt solar power plant proposed for the site of the abandoned coal mine. And here’s where new economy ideas come in: The coalition hopes the facility will be owned and controlled by the Navajo people and will provide reliable jobs.
“We were once the battery for the Southwest [with our coal production],” said Roberto Nutlouis, the Black Mesa Water Coalition’s green economy coordinator. “Why not convert these reclaimed lands into something more sustainable and healthy for our community?”
The proposed project would use the money made from the utility-scale solar plant to create local reinvestment funds that would then support wool production and food sovereignty projects, whereas Peabody’s profits mostly benefitted faraway shareholders.
“There’s a deeper way of valuing things, beyond a capitalist way,” Nutlouis said. “We need an economy that restores the health of our people and the health of our land.”
If efforts like this work in Black Mesa, they could help to blaze a trail out of the climate crisis that workers can get behind.
Mary Hansen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Mary has a hard time staying in one place but is also known to write, edit, and be a die-hard Steelers fan. She is an online reporting intern at YES!