(my column for July)
Back in November I put out a plea for some “new isms” – creative, innovative economic models and philosophies that might get us beyond the old, tired (and obsolete) debates between “capitalism” and “socialism” that have so polarized the political discussion in our society. Well, I’ve been digging around since then, and I’m pleased to report that there are indeed a bunch of “new isms” out there, just waiting to be explored.
Some aren’t really all that new – “distributism,” for example, is rooted in Catholic social teaching going back to encyclicals by Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject (a great place to start, by the way), in a distributist society “the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (plutarchic capitalism).” There is a website for “The Distributist Review” at distributism.blogspot.com where you can learn more about this intriguing approach (though by the time you read this they may have a new site up).
Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s “Parecon” (short for “participatory economics”) focuses on process, using localized “participatory decision making” to guide the production, allocation, and consumption of resources in society, as opposed to reliance on either market forces or top-down centralized state planning. Check out the Parecon website at http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/topics/parecon for an extensive array of in-depth articles, videos, tutorials, and other resources.
“Solidarity Economics” is a term that I first heard at the United for a Fair Economy (www.faireconomy.org) training that I wrote about last month. This approach defines itself by adherence to certain values, such as mutualism and cooperation; equity in all dimensions (heritage, class, gender, sexual identity); the primacy of social well-being over profit; sustainability; social and economic democracy; and a commitment to developing grassroots, localized solutions. The “open source” movement and CSA (community-supported agriculture) farms are cited as examples of solidarity economics in action. The website for the US Solidarity Economic Network is http://www.populareconomics.org/ussen.
Finally, I want to mention the work of Riane Eisler, author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. She points out that most economic models do not give value to “the most essential human work: the work of caring for people and the planet.” She would replace our present cultural and economic systems, characterized by what she calls “dominator values” of subjugation, hierarchy, and control, with “partnership values” of caring, compassion, and cooperation. You can learn more about Eisler’s thought and work at http://www.partnershipway.org.
As you can see, while there are differences in focus and methodology among these approaches, there are also many common themes. Let me make a prediction here: in a generation – that is to say, within 30 years or so – if we’re still here, we will have an economic system that has many of these features. It will not be “capitalism” as we know it, but neither will it be what we presently think of “socialism.” If that idea distresses you, sorry, but you’re too late: the process of building that system has already begun, and the old ones are already well on their way to perdition. But if that idea excites you, and gives you some hope for the future, as it does for me: let’s get to work.