"Corporate capitalism is unable to meet the needs of people and planet," said community economic development specialist Howard Nemon, speaking on April 10 at the West Asheville EarthFare. He was introducing the "New Economy," an 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."
About 25 people listened as Nemon shared 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 the same categorization as Venezuela and China, he highlighted.
The most equitable societies are found in Scandinavian and northern European countries, Nemon pointed out. In our current economic structure, "trends show that wages have stagnated while CEO compensation has expanded exponentially, thereby polarizing wealth." He continued, "There must be a better way."
The New Economy is based on four principles: decentralization, full employment, sustainability and economic democracy.
Decentralization begins with localizing the economy and building the bottom up, Nemon outilned. "If we have a self-reliant locality, then we will have a self-reliant region, country and, eventually, a self-reliant globe," he said. "To become self-reliant, [we need to] stop the leaks," which he identified as "loans and mortgages, taxes, salaries, government procurement, credit cards, and consumer purchases." The New Economy addresses these problems 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," Nemon cautioned.
But he introduced the Los Angeles Alliance for New Economics, a model that exemplifies a bottom-up economic shift in America. LAANE addresses "the challenges of working poverty, inadequate health care and polluted communities [by] combining a vision of social justice with a practical approach to social change,” its website explains. Implementing action based on principles of the New Economy, the group has successfully advocated for a living-wage ordinance, strict hiring policies and a policy for controlling 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 explained. He mentioned Cleveland, Ohio's "anchor institutions" and its economic and nonprofit cooperative revolution — an example from Gar Alperovitz's book What Then Must We Do?
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, and noted such groups and businesses as Blue Ridge Entrepreneurs, Just Economics, WNC Alliance, Ownership Appalachia, Mountain BizWorks, A-B Tech's Small Business Center, Asheville Grown Business Alliance, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, Firestorm Cafe, French Broad Food Coop, Self-Help Credit Union, Asheville LETS, Blue Ridge Entrepreneurs Council, Transition Asheville and Blue Ridge Food Ventures.
With much to do to establish a more self-reliant community in Western North Carolina, there are many ways to get involved, Nemon mentioned. “Our region has abundant talent, knowledge and resources — by changing our understanding of the purpose and design of our economy, we can become a shining example of the New Economy.”
Learn more at local-economies.org. The next Co-Creating the New Economy meeting will take place Wednesday, May 8, in the community room of the West Asheville EarthFare at 7 p.m. Thomas Beckett, of the Center for Common Enterprise, will be the featured guest speaker.