Author Archives: emilykawano

Announcing the launch of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN-US)

July 27, 2007

Announcing the launch of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN-US)

We are excited to announce the launch of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network. The decision to launch was taken at the end of a series of meetings that were held at the U.S. Social Forum. The time is ripe for this initiative, given the explosive growth of the solidarity economy and representative networks virtually everywhere else in the world. In the U.S., not only is there no such network to support existing solidarity economy practices and policies, but the term and framework is practically unknown.

What, then, is the solidarity economy?

· The Solidarity Economy offers an alternative economic framework to that of neoliberal globalization – one that is grounded in solidarity and cooperation, rather than the pursuit of narrow, individual self-interest.

· It promotes social and economic democracy, equity in all dimensions (e.g. race, class, gender…) and sustainability.

· It is pluralist and organic in its approach, allowing for different forms and strategies in different contexts, and is open to continual change driven from the bottom up whether in civil society or the marketplace.

What does a solidarity economy look like? Here are just a few examples:

· cooperatives — worker, producer, consumer, housing, financial
· local exchange systems, complementary currencies
· fair trade & solidarity finance
· social enterprises
·: high road’ locally owned businesses
· reclaim the commons movement
· social investment funds, worker controlled pension funds and credit unions
· land trusts
· co-housing, eco-villages
· consumer supported agriculture
· green technology and ecological production
· open source movement (e.g. Linux, wikipedia, YouTube)
· unpaid care labor & volunteer labor
· participatory budgeting
· collective kitchens in Latin America, tontines — collective health programs in Africa

· community-based services in France, social cooperatives in Italy

Why a solidarity economy network?

There are serious cracks in the dominant neoliberal economic model and there is a historic opening to create and push for a new framework for social and economic development. The solidarity economy builds on the grassroots innovations of people, moved by desperation, practicality, values, or vision, who are building economic alternatives to provide jobs, food, housing, social services, healthier communities and money, as well as advancing economic democracy and more just economic policies. Taken together, they offer stepping stones toward a new way of organizing our economy. Creating a network to foster a common sense of identity and purpose has been powerful in other countries. To take one example, in Canada, the social solidarity economy network has forged a comprehensive national policy framework and has leveraged $132 million in government funding for investment, capacity building, research and training.

What are the aims of the SEN?

We have yet to hammer out a mission statement, but here are some preliminary ideas:

· To develop a structure and vision that can promote a common identity and agenda among the currently isolated elements of the solidarity economy.

· To contribute to new theories of economic development informed by the dynamism and innovative practices within the solidarity economy.

· To raise the visibility, legitimacy and public support for solidarity economy practices,

· To link up with regional and international solidarity economy networks such as NANSE and RIPESS.

· To promote public policies and leverage resources for the support of the solidarity economy.

· To facilitate research on the benefits of the solidarity economy, best practices, opportunities for synergistic cooperation, and the development of training and technical support resources.

· To build the movement for transformative social and economic justice.

Next steps

The SEN Coordinating Committee is in the process of:

1) Mission statement and structure: we are developing a provisional mission statement and structure proposal which will be circulated for wider discussion.

2) Membership: We anticipate putting out an invitation to organizations and individuals to join in approximately a month’s time.

3) Development: We are exploring funding opportunities. The Center for Popular Economics will provide fiscal sponsorship as well as staffing, provisional upon funding in the start-up stage of the network formation.

4) Action plan and timeline: as we build a broad representative coordinating committee and membership we will prioritize our objectives and seek resources to achieve them.

5) Resource development: collect and publish a book of the presentations in the Economic Alternatives & the Social/Solidarity Economy track at the U.S. Social Forum. Develop a SEN-US website.

We hope that you find this initiative as exciting and inspiring as we do. Join us in building the Solidarity Economy Network. Spread the word, and sign on to the SEN listserve to keep up with developments. Send a message to: ssecaucus-subscribe {at} lists.riseup(.)net

On behalf of the SEN Coordinating Committee,

Emily Kawano, Center for Popular Economics
Phone: (413) 545-0743 e-mail: emily {at} populareconomics(.)org

SEN Coordinating Committee
Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Grassroots Economic Organizing
Melissa Hoover, U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Emily Kawano, Center for Popular Economics
Julie Matthaei, Guramylay
Ethan Miller, Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO)
Michael Menser, Amer. Fed. of Teachers, CUNY
Heather Schoonover, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Dan Swinney, Center for Labor and Community Research

Econ-Utopia: The Bloodless Revolution, part 2 of 2: a Review of Peter Barnes’ Capitalism 3.0

[See part one]
Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, CPE Staff Economist

It’s worth remembering that commons already exist, lots of them, in various places and parts of the world’s economies. Most often, however, they are informal arrangements—holdovers from before the rise of modern market capitalism. In general, commons are not recognized formally by governments as a type of property arrangement deserving protection, the way conventional private property is legally protected.

It is this lack of protection that enables the famous “tragedy of the commons.” Barnes argues that, contrary to the standard perception, commons aren’t undermined by internal tragedies—they are victims of infringement from the outside. Marx described the enclosure of common land into private land as “the primitive accumulation of capital”; today, Barnes is primarily concerned with the ability of corporations to horn in on remaining commons as they seek new resources to exploit for private gain. A recent example is with the digital TV broadcast spectrum, with an estimated value of $70 billion but which the U.S. government gave away for free in 1996 to media conglomerates, even though the airwaves are supposed to be the shared property of all Americans.
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Econ-Utopia: The Bloodless Revolution, part 1 of 2: A review of Peter Barnes’ CAPITALISM 3.0

Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, CPE Staff Economist

A few weeks ago, CPE Staff Economist Jerry Friedman wrote an Econ-Atrocity reviewing Bill McKibben’s new book, Deep Economy. Though he says McKibben “has written a clear attack on much of what ails us,” Friedman nonetheless criticizes McKibben for approaching the environmental and social problems of the day from an individualist perspective. For all that McKibben wants to promote and revive “community,” he has the attitude (says Friedman) of a “personal Salvationist . . . [who thinks that] the enemy [is] ourselves: we use too much, waste too much, want too much; and the only salvation for the environment is to change our preferences, use less, recycle more, and choose to live simply.” What McKibben misunderstands or ignores, Friedman argues, is the power of social institutions to drive behavior, regardless of the desires and seemingly free choices of individuals.

I think that Friedman will find solace in Peter Barnes’ recent book, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, since Barnes’ approach is definitively institutional. The problem, according to Barnes, is that the structure of the economy and society leave too much power in the hands of corporate capitalism. Even if all the CEOs and boards of directors and politicians were replaced with kind-hearted souls like McKibben, we would still face pretty much the same issues of environmental decay, economic inequality, and other social ills—the logic of capitalism and the legal structure of private property rights force the leaders of corporations to do what they currently do. He learned this from personal experience as co-owner and manager of several business ventures, most famously Working Assets (a telephone and credit card company that donates one percent of gross revenues to progressive charitable organizations). “I’d tested the system for twenty years, pushing it toward multiple bottom lines [that consider social and environmental impacts in addition to profit concerns] as far as I possibly could. I’d dealt with executives and investors who truly cared about nature, employees, and communities. Yet in the end, I’d come to see that all these well-intentioned people, even as their numbers grew, couldn’t shake the larger system loose from its dominant bottom line of profit.” (Ironically, Bill McKibben is quoted on the front cover of Capitalism 3.0 helping to promote Barnes’ book.)
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Econ-Atrocity: Profits over Pets

By Helen Scharber, CPE Staff Economist

Last month, the recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food by Menu Foods left Americans concerned and confused. The pet deaths and illnesses that spurred the recall have since been linked to melamine, a chemical added to animal feed in China to boost its reported protein content. Melamine is not digested in the same way as vegetable protein, however, and therefore lacks nutritional value. Why, then, are Fluffy and Fido eating it? In short, because companies value profits over pets. Using melamine increases profits by lowering costs, and without effective regulation, the drive for profits tends to trump other concerns, including human and animal health.

Melamine is a hard, white, coal-derived substance used primarily to make fertilizer and plastics. You may have melamine bowls or plates in your house; a warning on the bottom declares them unfit for use in microwaves or dishwashers, since high temperatures can cause the plastic to break down and contaminate your food. Animal feed manufacturers in China buy scrap melamine cheaply and add it to feed in order to boost its nitrogen content, which inflates protein levels in tests. According to a Chinese animal feed factory manager interviewed in the New York Times, “If you add it in small quantities, it won’t hurt the animals.” He goes on to justify the substitution of vegetable protein with melamine’s indigestible protein. “Pets are not like pigs or chickens”¦ they don’t need to grow fast.” Profits, he might have added, do need to grow fast, and substituting melamine, at one-fourth the cost of vegetable protein, helps profits grow.

The pet food recall case illustrates the problems that can spring from increasing globalization paired with poor regulation. While the use of melamine in food is prohibited in the United States, it isn’t in China. Because it reduces costs and has the added benefit of beefing up advertised protein levels, Chinese manufacturers use it as a filler, despite its total lack of nutritional content and poorly understood health effects.

The contaminated feed makes its way into the U.S. via companies like ChemNutra, the American importer that supplied the contaminated wheat gluten to Menu Foods. Steve Miller, the chairman of ChemNutra, claims that his company is actually the victim, not the offender. “We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination for the purpose of making the wheat gluten we purchased appear to have a higher protein content than it did,” he writes in a public letter. Moreover, according to Miller, “[ChemNutra] had no idea that melamine was an issue until being notified by the FDA on March 29. In fact, we had never heard of melamine before.”

If ChemNutra did not know about the melamine, Menu Foods, the Ontario-based pet food manufacturer that bought wheat gluten from ChemNutra, could not have known either. But if Menu Foods is not to blame for the contamination, they are responsible for the extent of the problem. Menu Foods, a company most Americans hadn’t heard of before March, manufactures wet cat and dog food under nearly 100 familiar brand names. These brands are sold in most major grocery and pet food stores around the country.

Incidents like the pet food recall and last year’s spinach contamination reveal just how concentrated — and, therefore, vulnerable — our food supply is. Such incidents also underline the importance of market regulation. It was the operation of the free market — specifically, Chinese animal feed processors seeking higher profits — that resulted in melamine-enhanced wheat gluten. Legally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting our food supply from harmful and illegal substances such as melamine. But faced with increasing numbers of food imports and inadequate staff, the FDA is unable to filter out every last potential culprit. Because the short-staffed FDA is unable to conduct necessary inspections, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in a press release from April 24, advocates a temporary ban of grain products from China. “If U.S. pets must serve as the: puppies in the coal mine,” writes CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, “we urge FDA to heed the warning and take action now to ban grains and other grain products until the Chinese government and producers can guarantee that these imports are free of illegal and dangerous substances.”

Even if Chinese grains were banned for a while, food production in the U.S. would continue to be complexly intertwined with the global food supply. Thus, federal regulatory agencies must step up their efforts to protect consumers from unsafe food, often a direct result of cost cutting by companies eager to increase profits. Current food safety laws are over 100 years old, and according to the CSPI, the FDA inspection staff has shrunk by 15 percent since 2003. To better protect the public from food-borne illnesses, Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Rosa DeLaura have introduced the Safe Food Act that would create a unified food agency with more modern rules. In tandem with better regulations, we should also make it harder for companies like Menu Foods to sell contaminated food to such large swathes of the country, by encouraging a less concentrated food processing and distribution system. After all, what’s the point of healthy profits if we don’t have healthy pets and healthy people?

Resources

New York Times web page with links to articles about the pet food recall

Center for Science in the Public Interest press release, urging FDA to ban grain imports from China — April 24, 2007

Letter from the chairman of ChemNutra about the pet food recall

Senator Dick Durban’s bill to establish a Food Safety Administration, introduced February 15, 2007 [pdf]

© 2007 Center for Popular Economics

Econ-Atrocities and Econ-Utopias are the work of their authors and reflect their author’s opinions and analyses. CPE does not necessarily endorse any particular idea expressed in these articles.

Econ-Atrocity: The economics, and the politics, of environmentalism

By Gerald Friedman, CPE Staff Economist

At the time of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, the Environmental Movement straddled two approaches to addressing environmental problems, approaches rooted in two alternative theories. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin proposed the first Earth Day to “force this issue onto the political agenda,” to promote changed government policy to protect the environment. But many of the 20 million Americans who took part in this first Earth Day were deeply suspicious of organized politics or state action. “Personal salvationists,” they blamed environmental troubles on our weaknesses as individuals. Instead of failed social policy, the enemy was ourselves: we use too much, waste too much, want too much; and the only salvation for the environment is to change our preferences, use less, recycle more, and choose to live simply.

Twenty seven years later, the Environmental Movement confronts the same division between personal salvation and political action, a division nicely illustrated by a new book, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy. A prominent environmentalist, McKibben has written a clear attack on much of what ails us; but he misses the underlying cause of these ills and, therefore, his prescription for remedial action is necessarily off. In many ways, a pleasure to read, the book also left me so frustrated that I threatened to throw it against the wall.
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Econ-Atrocity: A Lesson Taught By Honeybees

By Hasan Tekguc

What are honeybees, the favorite economic textbook example of a positive externality, doing nowadays? The short answer is: they are vanishing in droves, in billions.

Let’s take a step back and see what economics textbooks tell us. In many economics textbooks and introductory classes honeybees are referred to as the perfect example of a positive externality. A positive externality is the benefit from economic activity that falls on a party ‘external’ to the activity. Economics textbooks and professors explain that when honeybees visit flower after flower to collect nectar, they help flowers to pollinate. However, honeybee keepers are not paid by orchard owners for honeybees’ services and hence the pollination service is underprovided. The market-based solution offered in textbooks is to expand the market to include the positive externalities; in plain language if the orchard owners start to pay the beekeepers for bees’ services, the beekeepers will keep more honeybees, more flowers will be pollinated, and the trees will bear more fruit.
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Econ-Atrocity: America’s Beef with Antibiotics

By Helen Scharber, CPE Staff Economist

On February 8, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007, a bill designed to limit the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals. Though their surnames do not lend themselves as aptly to a bill about livestock, Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Snowe (R-WA) introduced a nearly identical bill to the Senate the following week. Why are lawmakers suddenly so concerned with porcine penicillin? As Snowe explains, “The effectiveness of infectious disease fighting antibiotics continues to be compromised by their overuse for agricultural purposes.” In other words, the antibiotics we’re feeding our edible friends are speeding the development of drug-resistant super bacteria, a type of progress that’s bad for pigs and for people.
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Econ-Atrocity: The Perils of Cheap Corn

By Heidi Garrett-Peltier, CPE Staff Economist

You are what you eat. And according to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that means we’re corn. Corn has now made its way into our diet in the form of fillers, sweeteners, oils, alcohols, pills, and breakfast cereals, not to mention of course the indirect path it takes through animal feed. Why should we care? Because cheap corn has been linked to obesity, and obesity will soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death.
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Econ-Utopia: The Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

By Matthew Riddle, CPE Staff Economist

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, grabbed headlines in Massachusetts recently when Governor Deval Patrick signed onto it, committing Massachusetts to a cut in its emissions of greenhouse gasses from power plants, and reversing Mitt Romney’s decision to abandon the agreement. In addition to rejoining RGGI, Patrick also outlined some proposals for its implementation, which may prove to be even more significant than his decision to join.
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Econ-Utopia: Greenbacks for Green Energy

By Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, CPE Staff Economist

With Al Gore on Oprah giving his “inconvenient” PowerPoint presentation, new reports of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels, and the release of the British government’s Stern Review, which is the latest major estimate of the economic costs of climate change, the issue of global warming is becoming a part of mainstream politics and kitchen-table conversations. Since the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) is the main source of human-caused warming, the need for alternative forms of energy is clear.
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