“Corporate capitalism is unable to meet the needs of people and planet,” said community economic development specialist and nonprofit consultant Howard Nemon, speaking on April 10 at EarthFare (Westgate Shopping Center). He was introducing the “New Economy,” an enterprising initiative that strives “to find an economic structure that works for everyone.”
Nemon asserted that we must work together to build a bottom-up economy. “Right now, we are living in a top-down economy,” he said. “At the top, it may look very nice [but] for [the other] 99 percent, we’re looking up at power structures who run the economy.”
Howard Nemon, pictured
About 25 people listened as Nemon talked and offered a PowerPoint presentation. One slide depicted an image of concentrated wealth on a global scale, called the Gini Index. America’s wealth disparities fall under that same categorization as Venezuela and China.
More equitable societies are found in Scandinavian and Northern European countries, he explained. In our current economic structure, “corporations control wages, productivity and the polarization of wealth.” He continued, “There must be a better way.” The New Economy’s vision is based in four principle ideals: De-Centralization, Full Employment, Sustainability and Economic Democracy.
De-centralization begins with localizing the economy and building the bottom up. “If we have a self-reliant locality, then we will have a self-reliant region, country and eventually, a self-reliant globe,” said Nemon. “To become self-reliant, [we need to] stop the leaks,” he said. Leaks are identified as “loans and mortgages, taxes, salaries, government procurement, credit cards, and consumer purchases.” IThe New Economy addresses the leaks in several ways: “Buy local, produce local, hire local and invest locally.” All of these require conscious consumption.
Full employment is possible through “micro-enterprise, entrepreneurship, labor-intensive businesses, adequate wages and reduced work days [individuals work shorter days so that more people can be employed overall]. The New Economy has to work for everyone,” said Nemon. He then introduced the Los Angeles Alliance for New Economics, a model that exemplifies a bottom-up economic shift in America. LAANE, as described on its website, is dedicated to addressing “the challenges of working poverty, inadequate health care and polluted communities. Combining a vision of social justice with a practical approach to social change, LAANE has helped set in motion a broad movement to transform conditions in Los Angeles and beyond.” Implementing action based on principles of the New Economy, the group has successfully advocated for a living-wage ordinance and strict hiring policies. The nonprofit also passed a clean-truck act, and established a policy to control chain-store development.
Sustainability means finding a balance between the needs of the environment, economy and society. “Smart Growth,” said Nemon, “will not exhaust resources or cause harm to our planet. The constraints of nature must be taken into consideration.”
Economic Democracy, the fourth factor, requires “economic justice, local control, local ownership, rising living standards, local cooperatives and group ownership,” Nemon said. He offered an example from Gar Alperovitz‘s book What Then Must We Do?, about Cleveland, Ohio’s “anchor institutions” and the city’s economic and nonprofit cooperative revolution. (For more about worker-owned initiatives in Cleveland, please see Evergreen Cooperatives.)
Here in Asheville, we may be well positioned for New Economic growth, said Ron Czecholinski, who helped facilitate the event. He discussed the existing infrastructure that will enable bottom-up revitalization. Those businesses include: Blue Ridge Entrepreneurs, Just Economics, WNC Alliance, Ownership Appalachia, Mountain BizWorks, A-B Tech’s Small Business Center, Asheville Grown Business Alliance, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), Firestorm Cafe, French Broad Food Coop, Self-Help Credit Union, Asheville LETS, Blue Ridge Entrepreneurs Council, Transition Asheville and Blue Ridge Food Ventures, to name a few.
With much to do to establish a more self-reliant community in Western North Carolina, there are many ways to get involved. The group, Co-Creating the New Economy, meets monthly and is open to the public. Join the discussion and learn more at http://www.local-economies.org.
The next session of Co-Creating the New Economy will focus on cooperatives and will take place May 8. Thomas Beckett, of the Center for Common Enterprise, will be the featured guest speaker.