Building a New Economy

Put People First!

The old economy, this economy, is fundamentally broken. It does not work for the millions of unemployed, it does not work for the almost fifty million contingent workers who work part-time and without benefits, it does not work for returning citizens who have paid their dues to society, it doesn’t work for our immigrant brothers and sisters who are forced into the shadows, it does not work for workers of color who are locked out of opportunity because of their race, and it does not work for low and moderate income communities. If something doesn’t work for most people, then I call it broken.

There are three paths we can take going forward – fight to keep what we have, try to go back to some golden era (that did not exist for everyone), or build a new economy that works for everyone.

We are talking about an emerging framework for building a new economy that answers the question of scale with several key elements. First, our framework for a new economy requires a long-term agenda.

Over the past five years NPA has constructed a long-term agenda to a new economy by talking to more than 5,000 people about their values, beliefs, and big ideas. We saw that a Battle of Big Ideas was being waged on the role of government, on who creates jobs, on the purpose of corporations, and on what the economy is for.

In the past year we worked with 500 people in church basements, community centers, and labor halls. We talked about the root causes of the past forty years of growing inequality – deregulation, privatization, money in elections, and attacks on organized labor and organized communities.

We saw how policy victories by the 1% were stepping stones to structural reforms that advanced inequality, we looked at how the dominant narrative has shifted to support inequality, and we looked at the power and infrastructure that has been built to advance inequality through ideas, policies and structural reforms.

We firmly believe that a society that is increasingly unequal, where structural racism makes someone’s race and zip code a determinant for their opportunity and health, is an unstable society.

Inequality does not create jobs; there is no trickle down effect in the globalized Wall Street casino. Those are ideas used to advance an agenda that has concentrated wealth at the top and eviscerated it at the bottom.

But we didn’t just look to the past -- our strategic inquiry asked our members to imagine victory. To think through our own stepping stone policies to structural reforms that would bring power back to people and the public, restore people’s control of our democracy and therefore economy, and build a new economy that works for everyone. We think this will take at least forty years, but if we don’t start working to end structural racism now, to advance our own structural reforms now, then we will never get there.

The compass of our Long-Term Agenda to a New Economy pointed us in the direction of this gathering. It pointed toward new thinking, the third path toward an economy we have not seen before. It drives us to think about how to build a new economy in cities like Buffalo and the Bronx, Philadelphia and Kalamazoo. We need a long-term agenda for a new economy that is tailored to the people, history, and vision for each place. But we firmly believe that a new economy cannot simply be a collection of disparate projects – it requires a long-term plan, and it requires all of us to put a stake down and go all in to support the construction of a new economy and robust democracy.

There are two ways to fix the economy, and we need to do both – make the wealthiest people and corporations pay their fair share and rebuild the tax base of our cities and states. The opposite of austerity is prosperity – you don’t get to prosperity by cutting food stamps for hungry children in order to have the biggest economic actors avoid their taxes. We won’t see more jobs with lower taxes, if that was true why is unemployment so high in Buffalo and the Bronx when personal and corporate income taxes are at an all time low? We will see more jobs when we rebuild our cities and communities -- from the bottom up.

Second, building a new economy is also not simply an economic project -- it is an organizing project that builds power and reshapes relationships and the rules of the economy over the long haul. Ongoing organizing is the lifeblood of the new economy, shoring up democracy and removing barriers and roadblocks that stand in our way. We may also have to change the rules of the economy, and the only way to do that is through organizing. Without organizing, we will have that disparate collection of new economy projects that don’t add up to much and don’t challenge the old economy.

Third, a new economy must be rooted in our values. New economy means local and democratic – owned by workers, the community, local owners and stakeholders. If democracy and self-rule are fundamental for American democracy, why would we leave these basic American values at the door of our workplaces? The emerging union coop model points toward a realization of real democracy in the new economy and in the cities that we are setting out to transform.

Next Steps from the "Organizing for a New Economy" Convening held on December 2-3, 2013

This convening explored current practices and potential value-added frameworks for developing an “Organizing for a New Economy” model – a new and innovative melding of worker, community and local ownership, community organizing, economic justice, community wealth-building value chains, innovative finance, foundation and donor activism, and a long-term agenda to build a sustainable new economy that puts people first. A white paper is in process for spring 2014, but in the meantime please check out the following recent papers and presentations that point toward a new framework and strategy for building a new economy.

Papers:

Crafting a Long-Term Agenda for Change: A Case History of National People’s Action by Grassroots Policy Project and NPA

Capturing the Imagination of Future Social Entrepreneurs: A Robust University Based Anchor Institution-led Development Model by Sherman Kreiner University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation

The New Alliance: Organizing for Economic Justice, Building a New Economy by Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb, Democracy Alliance

New Opportunities for Alliance Building and Major Economic Development: Combining Community Organizing with an Accelerated Expansion of “The Cleveland Model” by Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb

Towards a Localist Policy Agenda by Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Sustainable Jobs, Sustainable Communities: The Union Co-op Model by Rob Witherell, United Steelworkers (USW), Chris Cooper, Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) and Michael Peck, Mondragon International USA

Connecting Community Assets with Market Demand for Lasting Livelihoods: Meeting New Challenges with Innovative Approaches by Melissa Levy and Barbara Wyckoff

An Emerging Solidarity: Worker Cooperatives, Unions, and the New Union Co-op Model by Rob Witherell, United Steelworkers

Presentations:

Connecting Community Assets with Market Demand to Build Lasting Livelihoods by Barbara Wyckoff, Dynamic Consulting and Deborah Markley, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

Case Study: Building Better Futures Through the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative

Case Study: Building a New Community Economy with PUSH Buffalo

Webinar from Ecotrust Canada: A Case Study of Citizen Engagement and Innovation