New Economics for the People

Financial Justice Ideas and Issues Solidarity Economics Wade's World
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Pearl River    

Traditional economics is under assault from all corners.  The pandemic has forced some reevaluations of neoliberal scripture on everything from climate change to just-in-time supply chains to globalism itself.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine will inevitably force yet another rejiggering of economic forces and allies in Europe and beyond.  The shibboleths of recent economic consensus are fracturing so completely that there are even hints of shaming and calls to accountability, as we read recently in the takedown of Larry Summers, the academic and government economist who has been one of the architects of these disasters.

Chris Benner, professor at UC Santa Cruz, and Manuel Pastor, professor at University of Southern California, visited with me recently on Wade’s World about their candidate to replace the dominant theory, solidarity economics, and their new book by the same name.  They don’t argue that the classic concept of self-interest is totally moot, but that there are too many examples of mutual aid and economic cooperation in various forms to support claims that profit is everything.

Searching for large scale examples isn’t easy for them.  They cite Costco in comparison with Walmart as an example of a company doing well, but also doing less harm, but of course Costco is only union in the original Sol Price stores where he allowed the Teamsters in, not in all of their expanded footprint.  They mention Southwest, which may be truer now, but was virulently anti-union in its formative years under Herb Kelleher, its longtime CEO. They perhaps have a stronger case in looking at the way the billionaire major sports owners pool money and allow weaker teams to compete, but the way they hold up cities on stadium construction and the current baseball lockout, the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick horror, and other examples hardly seem the best cases for solidarity-based economics.

Nonetheless, they are more right than wrong in arguing the limits of self-interest as insufficient to explain how people operate as economic actors from tipping to more generous charity as a percentage of income by lower income families than the rich.  Talking about guaranteed adequate income or universal basic income proposals they called them “solidary dividends” of a country or communities’ resources.  They joined others in noting how inadequate GDP is as a measure of economic health since it doesn’t count unpaid labor among other things.  They understand that there are no such thing as independent market solutions.  Without a doubt, solidarity economics is where we need to go.

Interestingly, I was reminded of another critique of self-interest listening to Robin Wall Kemmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, when this Native American botanist and biologist, repeatedly underlined the importance of reciprocity as a guiding principle of Native American culture, economy, and community.  At one level that would seem another description of mutual aid, but it’s actually something deeper as an embedded individual value and practice within a community, not simply in concert with a community.

We definitely need new eyes and ways of looking at how to construct an economy that values everyone and encourages collective action, equity, and harmony rather than rapaciousness with masses of losers and few winners.