It makes us angry when we hear—time and again—mainstream pundits and policy makers claim that there is no alternative to the past 30 years’ path of gearing economies toward the global market. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Currently, as financial markets stagnate and food prices swing wildly and the environment is under siege, more and more people, communities, and nations are taking steps to reduce their vulnerability to a volatile global economy. Many are proceeding to build what we like to call more “rooted” alternatives.
In the Philippines, for instance, we find a refreshing openness to new directions from the halls of the new Congress to the rice fields of the southern island of Mindanao. Many people have come to understand that the dominant approach to the economy since the final years of the Marcos dictatorship, building on 400 years of colonialism, has failed: This more vulnerable approach geared the economy toward the plunder of fish, forests, and minerals that enriched the few and impoverished workers, farmers, and fishers. It created an agriculture sector that is dependent upon unreliable imports rather than geared to feeding the people.
Industrialization occurred in export enclaves, mainly of electronics, that profited corporations but remains dependent upon unreliable overseas markets. And, the model depends upon the export of Filipino workers to other countries to send home money to relatives, since the economy is not providing for their needs. The result is a plundered environment and an economy that is vulnerable to the shocks of a shaky world economy.
We will tell you more about what we find in the Philippines in subsequent blogs, but today we want to deal head-on with the “there is no alternative” myth.
How about an economy that encourages the stewardship of forests, fisheries and land for community needs? One that encourages agriculture that is good for the soil, feeds everyone an adequate diet, and reorients industry for people’s needs? How about a finance system that helps small enterprises, and an economy that creates enough good jobs and livelihoods so that youth see a future at home?
There is in fact an upsurge of efforts in this direction in the United States, in Europe, and in a number of poorer countries—including many parts of the Philippines. In the United States, the Institute for Policy Studies, YES! Magazine, and several other groups have come together to form a “New Economy Working Group.” They have proposed that in order to transform economies to meet the crises, economic life should be organized around three principles.
The first is “ecological balance"—ecosystems should be managed sustainably. This is best done when communities control the natural resources on which they depend. The second is “equitable distribution.” A growing body of evidence suggests that societies that share wealth more equitably enjoy greater health, less violence, and stronger communities. A final principal is “living democracy” (in the words of both Vandana Shiva and Frances Moore Lappé) which involves daily practices of civic engagement in decision making as well as broad participation in the ownership of community assets. People around the world are proposing alternatives and rebuilding parts of economic life based on these principles. Here are four key areas:
So, in the spirit of the holiday season: Yes, Virginia, there are a multitude of rooted alternatives.
Robin Broad and John Cavanagh wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Robin is a Professor of International Development at American University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John is on leave from directing the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group.
They are co-authors of three books on the global economy, and are currently traveling the country and the world to write a book entitled Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability.