The unforeseen support generated by the Presidential candidacy of unabashed Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, which may or may not be history by the time you read these words, is but the latest in a series of body blows that have rocked our notions of Business-As-Usual in the past couple of years. (Others have been delivered by such folks as Elizabeth Warren, Thomas Piketty, and Pope Francis.) Bernie’s campaign demonstrated in no uncertain terms that there is a strong, widespread, and undeniable desire for new ways not only of doing business, but of structuring society itself.
This kind of thing happens from time to time. Some even say it’s a cycle. In a fascinating article on the Evonomics website, Dr. Sally Goerner lays it out:
Oligarchies always collapse because they are designed to extract wealth from the lower levels of society, concentrate it at the top, and block adaptation by concentrating oligarchic power as well. Though it may take some time, extraction eventually eviscerates the productive levels of society, and the system becomes increasingly brittle. Internal pressures and the sense of betrayal grow as desperation and despair multiply everywhere except at the top, but effective reform seems impossible because the system seems thoroughly rigged.
In the final stages, a raft of upstart leaders emerge, some honest and some fascistic, all seeking to channel pent-up frustration towards their chosen ends. If we are lucky, the public will mobilize behind honest leaders and effective reforms. If we are unlucky, either the establishment will continue to ‘respond ineffectively’ until our economy collapses, or a fascist will take over and create conditions too horrific to contemplate.
So some kind of change is coming – but what, exactly, shall it be?
The term “new economy” has been a buzzword for nearly a quarter-century now – but it has come to refer to at least two very different visions. On the one hand, it simply refers to new, usually technology-driven, ways of making money, and of connecting buyers and sellers of products and services. This was its main meaning back in the 90’s, and it manifests today in Uber, AirBnB’s, and other companies. (See this article for a brief overview of this kind of “new economy.”) But the driving ideas, and the definitions of success, are still by and large the same, even if some of the methodologies are different. Here, we are still solidly within the realm of capitalism, the bottom line still rules, and getting a solid financial return on investment is still the main goal.
The other kind of “new economy,” though, asks different questions altogether – not just about “how” but “why.” There are a myriad of new terms, theories, and approaches being generated – some of which are explored on the website of the Next System Project, which I told you about a few months ago – but I think the key difference is one of values. This new economy, for example, is concerned less with concentration and accumulation and more with proper distribution – less with short-term gain and more with long-term sustainability – less with exploitation and dominance, and more with cooperation and inclusiveness.
For this reason, I suggest a new term – the “New Values Economy” – to describe this still-being-dreamed system, which will someday replace what we now see falling apart. And I want to invite you to join me in Buffalo the weekend of July 8-10 for a conference called “CommonBound,” sponsored by the New Economy Coalition (http://neweconomy.net), to learn more about and help to shape that coming future.