Exploring the “New Economy”

After the Wall Street financial empire crashed the world economy in 2008, thoughtful observers started to call for a major overhaul of the entire system. It is not enough, they say, to restore government oversight of financial institutions that had been deregulated since the 1980s. We need, instead, to rethink the basic design and underlying assumptions of our economy.

One of the most influential of these observers is David Korten, whose 2009 book Agenda for a New Economy envisioned an economy that is “locally based, community oriented, and devoted to creating a better life for all.” He distinguished real wealth, measured in the quality of life, from what he called the “phantom” wealth produced by financial manipulation. A “real” economy would support “ecological balance, an equitable distribution of Earth’s resources, and a living democracy responsive to the needs and values of ordinary people.” See livingeconomiesforum.org for more about his ideas.

This idea of a “real” or “new” economy has spread rapidly in the past several years. The field of ecological economics has become more widely recognized (led in part by work at the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont). There is a movement to assess “gross national happiness” rather than “gross national product” to more truly measure the quality of life (see gnhusa.org). A dynamic organization called the New Economics Institute (neweconomy.net), has taken the lead in promoting a “just and sustainable economy.”

Earlier this year we saw the emergence of Vermonters for a New Economy, a coalition of organizations, businesses, and individuals working to develop “regenerative economic activities to strengthen our food systems, build renewable energy, reuse and recycle byproducts, and foster creativity, culture, and healthy lifestyles.” The group can be found at vtneweconomy.org.

This month, both national and Vermont groups promoted a “New Economy Week” that highlighted events, actions, reports, works of art, and other projects all across the United States. According to New Economics Institute, “by calling attention to the thousands of things people are doing right now to build a new kind of economy, we hope to inspire more participation in this movement and catalyze a national conversation on the need for deep, systemic change.” While there were no such events in our area, we can gain inspiration from the innovative projects being attempted in communities around the country, and apply what they are learning to our own local economy.

What can we try here in the Woodstock area? We can continue supporting a robust local food system through farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, and more deliberate shopping. We can keep dollars in the local economy by purchasing as much as possible from merchants in our area instead of online or in big box stores. We can support regional banks and credit unions and invest in smaller scale enterprises closer to home (see breakupwithyourmegabank.org).

Along with these practical steps, we can all educate ourselves about the principles of the “new economy” and the state and national organizations that are promoting it.  If we want to address the pressing challenges of our time and build a truly sustainable society, we will need to learn to think differently about our dominant institutions, and the organizations briefly profiled in this column can help us do that.  Check them out!

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