Platteville, Wisconsin's Main St. Downtown Revitilization is being powered, in part, by Bob Metzger, who is the owner of Badger Brothers Bagels there. He and his wife live above their show, Main Street in essence becoming their "front yard." This small town mercantile revitilization is a key part of the "New Economy."
The New Economy in Short
*To read the policy in full, see further below.
The economy should be tremendously jacked down and simplified.
We need to value social health above material wealth.
Reinstitute much more productive work around the vital areas of shelter, food, medical, energy, education and transportation.
De-emphasize financial speculation (Wall Street) and other extraneous paper shuffling that doesn't contribute much, if anything, to the necessary stuff of life. (Many of these extraneous paper shuffling jobs, and the like, have evolved in the last century.)
Refocus on craftsmanship in local communities.
See work as a vocation.
Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Home Depot, etc., will be categorized as monopolies and broken up.
Downtown revitalization, with a resurgence of small Mom & Pop shops will make a major comeback.
Big city downtowns will be sectioned off and turned into sets of small towns in the city.
Keep things small, with as much local production for local consumption as possible.
Debt-free stimulus to community-based projects to revitalize Main Street market economies. (Economies that support social and environmental balance.)
National Banks should be viewed as monopolies and broken up as well. And the branches should be sold to local investors.
Money that has been used for Wall Street financial speculation must be redirected to productive, local, socially responsible investment.
Another New Economy component will be a shift to a much more decentralized, organic agrarian based society. (Mega-corporate farming would end another monopoly and there would be a return of the small family farm, en masse.
More community sponsored agriculture projects and more local food co-ops.
Shift from America being predominately a Society of Consumers to America becoming a Society of Conservers. In regard to a tremendously heightened sense of environmental consciousness.
Move toward a distributist orientation to maximize as much ownership as possible in business and real estate. This is best displayed in business co-ops, farming co-ops, housing co-ops
In The New Economy, federal government shrinks and deficit spending goes away.
Shift in college education thats more streamlined, affordable and localized.
Revamping of the Social Security paradigm.
Economy Position Paper
Topics covered below: 1) Reprioritize; 2) Productive Work; 3) Work as a Vocation; 4) Paying More or Less; 5) Downtown Revitalization; 6) Perpetual Economic Growth through Consumption?; 7) Debt-Free Stimulus to Community Based Projects; 8) Wall Street Is History; 9) Local Investing Options; 10) More Local Investing Options (Agrarian); 11) Society of Conservers; 12) Demise of the Middle-Class; 13) Cooperatives; 14) Mondragon Co-op; 15) Less Bonds; 16) Colleges; 17) A New Social Security Model.
Our economy should be tremendously jacked down, simplified, and ideologically revamped.
David Kurten is the author of the book The New Economy. In an article for Yes! Magazine he writes that we must replace a defective operating system that values only money, seeks to monetize every relationship, and pits each person in a competition with every other for dominance.
This last statement speaks volumes about our current economy, our current American culture in general.
On a macroeconomic level, we have, for too long, measured the health of our country primarily by the size of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (The GDP is the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.) This orientation has led to a U.S. mindset that values material wealth above social health, my wife Liz told the Bangor (ME) Daily News during a campaign swing through the New England states.
In the Midwest, I interviewed Ohio Bluffton College Sociology Professor Jeff Gingerich. He said our country has economic indicators for practically everything. We know how many people are employed and how many people are unemployed. There are computer data banks showing what someone’s last three car purchases were. Other data will show how much a person is in debt and to whom. More data will show if a person has started to shop more on the Internet. And yet more data will show, based on a person’s net worth, where they fall in our socio-economic strata system (lower class, middle class, upper class).
But what about the amount of quality time someone is spending with their children? Professor Gingerich posed. To what degree is that person trying to help the environment, build community, be involved with civic projects, help the poor?
Who is measuring that?
Should we be measuring that?
Professor Gingerich said he believes we should be putting a lot more energy into detailing and measuring these types of quality of life factors. In fact, one of the professor’s class texts is The Social Health of the Nation. The book proposes that there should be an annual National Social Survey that would start to provide ongoing tracking for these other categories – categories that we believe should trump straight economics in regard to importance.
And while there are versions of this type of National Social Survey in 15 European countries, to date there is, unfortunately, no similar formal survey in America.
Our administration would push for one.
Now on to straight economics.
2) Productive Work
In a broad brush overview, David Korten writes that for the last century or more, corporate interests have driven a governmental policy agenda that, for instance, gave tax preference to income from financial speculation over income for productive work.
Korten writes: “Unregulated speculation (stocks, bonds, etc.) is at the root of the current crisis. Society is better served by a system that favors productive work and investment, and limits speculation and suppresses inflation in all forms.”
And what is productive work?
Yorba Linda, California, author Steve Gerdsmier sees productive work as things that provide life support. That is, the basics around: food, medical, energy, education, transportation, clothing, communication.
During an interview with Gerdsmier, he told me that many jobs, at their roots, are nothing more than contrived paper shuffling and don’t contribute much to the necessary stuff of life.
Gerdsmier pointed to Buck Minster Fuller's book Critical Path. Fuller, who was the initial designer of the geodesic dome, writes that many of these paper shuffling jobs have evolved in the last century. And with them have come an economy (as David Korten points out) that geared toward making money, not necessarily making sense. Common sense.
And according to Greasier, what makes sense is less marketers and more people working on organic farms; less financial analysts and more teachers; less public relations people and more local mechanics.
And more good local mechanics.
3) Work as a Vocation
What author Mathew Crawford believes is that the quality of craftsmanship has declined considerably in our society. And what is more, the impetus to be good at our work has commensurately declined as well.
Crawford is the author of the book From Shop Class to Soul Craft. He uses the example of an assembly line. Workers on the line are often responsible for only one small, repetitive (and often mind numbing) job. And not only don't they see the finished product, they don't see who the finished product goes to either. And this is the same for cars, furniture, appliances, bicycles…
In the old days, for instance, there was a bicycle shop in every town that manufactured, sold and repaired bicycles. The community was dependent on the bicycle merchant's craftsmanship. And the merchant was motivated to make the best product possible because he/she was selling to his/her neighbors.
In South Bend, Indiana, I interviewed Daniel Baker, who was in the formative stages of starting a small auto-mechanic shop based on the principles in Crawford's book. Baker said the interdependency between craftsman and local community is key. And, unlike the relative anonymity of the assembly line worker, his work will be open for criticism and critique. Which ultimately will make him a better craftsman, he said.
Taking another page from the new capitalism Crawford writes about, Baker also said that by knowing his customers intimately in a small community setting, it will put himself in a better position to make more moral decisions about his work.
As an example, say that the car being brought to him for repairs is owned by the father of a big family. And this father works at a relatively low paying job. (Living in a small, close-knit community would allow for more of this kind of knowledge.) Baker said the father's low paying job and number of children would indeed influence how much he charged.
In South Bend, I also talked with a Notre Dame University theology professor who does salary sharing in her personal life. That is, she takes part of her salary each month and shares it with a low-income family that does a lot of non-paying volunteer work in the community.
In essence, work would not just be about our current predominately “business is business” orientation; but rather work would be about carrying out a vocation on several levels.
And thus, another component of The New Economy.
4) Paying More, or Less
In The New Economy, as the mechanic, merchant, and so on, have more of a proclivity to help out some of their customers with lower fees; some customers, who were more well-healed monetarily, may, reciprocally, be inspired to help certain merchants more as well.
For instance, if some of these customers know a merchant has a good number of children, and/or is in a business slump, they might, say, pay more than the item(s) listed price.
Our family has done this a number of times. For instance, on the road we bought a screwdriver that listed at $6 for $20. It was a small town hardware store that was struggling to stay open in the face of the local Walmart and Home Depot.
Likewise, there is a restaurant in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, that has suggested prices on the menu. The concept is for those more well off to consider paying more for the food, which then might subsidize a person, or family, who are only able to pay less than the suggested price.
On a micro-economic level, this would be akin to a “pay it forward” concept from individual to individual. On a macro-economic level, this would move us toward much more of a society of voluntary (not forced) sharing.
5) Downtown Revitalization
I told the Brattleboro News in Vermont that The New Economy will revolve around the revitalization of downtowns (again, like in the old days, where small Mom & Pop shops will make a big comeback as the monopolies of Walmart, Kmart, Target, Home Depot will be broken up. And local people will be vested in these conglomerates not coming back.
Some people are already expressing this.
During a campaign stop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, we learned this town rose up against the proposal of big box stores going in on the outskirts of town because of what it would do to the integrity of the downtown. Protestors flooded the local newspaper with letters-to-the-editor. NO SPRAWL! Signs went up in many front yards around town. And a referendum petition was circulated.
The strip mall developer backed off.
On a stop in Fairborn, Ohio, we interviewed a man who had come up with a pre-emptive way to head off the big box stores, while going beyond to support the locally-owned, small stores. Bob Jurick goes about town every January with written pledge to various businesses he will use that year.
He actually pledges to spend so much money (it varies from store to store) in the upcoming year to each of these stores as long as they stay small, independent and locally owned.
Jurick told me that because of these pledges, although unintended, he finds many of these stores reciprocate with giving him quite good deals because they are so appreciative of the sentiment, and extra support.
Likewise, a small grocer in Yellow Springs is quite appreciative. This grocer had been located in the Yellow Springs downtown area for years. But now, more and more people were driving 10 to 20 miles to big box grocers elsewhere for cheaper prices. The grocer was about to go out of business.
However Community Services Inc. in Yellow Springs, a creative non-profit to promote community building in the town, held a town forum to educate people about why it's important to shop locally. The forum included a testimonial by the grocery store owner explaining the straights he was in. Subsequently, the town rallied behind the grocer. And five years later he was still in business and doing well.
Again, the key in The New Economy will be to keep things small, with as much local production for local consumption from town to town.
One of the best examples of this downtown revitalization is in Platteville, Wisconsin (pop. 9,000). Their Main Street Project follows a four-point approach. Regular downtown events are planned. There's a newsletter. Forums are conducted to educate consumers on why it is important to shop downtown. And there is regular recruitment of downtown businesses.
While I was on a stop in Platteville, Main Street's president Bob Metzger told me that as these new businesses locate downtown, another dynamic is starting to unfold as well. That is, a number of business owners (including Metzger) are moving into apartments above their stores.
Main Street becomes our front yard, he said, explaining that this is even more motivation to make the downtown as attractive as possible.
6) Perpetual Economic Growth through Consumption?
The core of our economic problems, David Korten writes, is that in our modern economy, nearly every relationship depends on money. This, in turn, gives ultimate power to those who control the creation and allocation of money.
Currently, the issuance and allocation of money is controlled by private banks for the exclusive benefit of top managers and shareholders. The money issued by these banks as debt must be repaid with interest.
This requires perpetual economic growth through consumption.
So, in essence, more and more goods get created. Advertisers create more and more of a demand for these goods through media manipulation. And many people in society end up with a glut of stuff and debt.
The average American household now maintains 12 credit cards (and is, also on average, some $10,000 in debt). What's more, when it comes to borrowing these days, many households are not doing it to invest (in stocks, bonds, basic home improvements, etc.), but rather they are borrowing to spend.
And this escalating spending / debt cycle has, ultimately, led to the current financial crisis.
As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt puts it: “It's your fault. Part of it is anyway. You, the American consumer, spent too much money. You bought too much home, took on too much debt, and generally lived beyond your means. Your free spending ways have helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”
And now you are going to have to do your part to end the crisis. How? By spending more.
Therein lies a significant part of the problem.
Anne Wilson-Schaaf wrote the book When Society Becomes an Addict. Her contention is modern American society is rife with addictive compulsive behavior across the board.
And this includes us becoming “spendaholics”.
What is called for is economic sobriety within a new kind of economic system. It would be a system where it's easier to do good – for the common good.
7) Debt free stimulus to community-based projects
David Korten believes we must reboot the economy with a new, values based operating system designed to support social and environmental balance. This, again, is very much in line with what we propose.
The new system must be locally rooted in strong communities with an eye toward the common good of all.
The government stimulus money should not come from borrowing money created by the same private banks that got us into this mess, writes Korten. Instead, the government should issue debt free money that will flow to community-based projects to help revitalize Main Street market economies.
It is our belief big national banks should be viewed as monopolies as well. They should be broken up and their branches sold to local investors. They, in turn, should be chartered to serve Main Street needs, lending to local manufacturers, merchants, farmers, homeowners.
In Mt. Vernon, Ohio, we met with Kelly Schermerhorn, who oversees a Credit Union in Mt. Vernon and lectures nationally about issues relating to credit unions. He explained that credit unions are primarily democratically governed financial co-ops that are, basically, owned by their customers.
He said this symbiotic relationship lends itself to heightened levels of camaraderie and more of a focus on supporting the local community.
For instance, the Federal Credit Union in Evansville, Indiana, (also featured in Yes! Magazine) is a small collective with about 7,500 members. They have a united interest in improving life in Evansville. They, for instance, have a focus on green energy for the town. And the credit union often loans to people and businesses undertaking, say, solar projects.
8) Wall Street Is History
Korten, again, believes we should let Wall Street go and rebuild a Main Street economy. Korten believes financial speculation, on a national and international level, is nothing more than legalized gambling.
We do too.
As an example, the average investor never visits the companies they invest in. And most investors tend to treat stock ownership as an abstract financial arrangement. The average stock investor hangs on to their investment for less than one year now. Korten says financial speculation does not create real wealth, serves no public interest and should be strongly discouraged.
Again, Wall Street should go away.
How he proposes that happen is to tax the purchase or sale of financial instruments and impose a tax surcharge on short-term capital gain. Make it illegal to sell, insure or borrow against an asset you don't own, or to issue a financial security not backed by a real asset.
This would effectively shut down much of Wall Street.
Ryans, owned by three family generations -- but that's about to end.
Downtown Maysville, South Carolina (what's left of it).
photos by Joe