Warwick, December 8-10, 2000
The Other Economic Summit (TOES) Retreat :: Minutes by Trent Schroyer
Three Dimensions of the TOES Mission
TOES is in the business of sponsoring underrepresented public discourse and aiding in the promotion of "What Works" alternatives. Our mission is to supply the opportunity to those who need to document the suffering caused by the dominant economic paradigm as well as their proposals for alternative policy and practices.
Secondly, TOES events are also experiments in promoting a different type of social learning that includes stake holders into the research and problem solving; an approach variously called "post-normal science", "mutual learning" or the participatory citizen's science of the Dutch ‘science shops'. Jill Copyak explained how the Loka Institute flips the usual relation of research and community by bringing local people into the community capacity building and problem solving, such as the popular epidemiology of Woburn, Mass.
There has always been a third current in TOES/US events that is unique in the set of NGO's that sponsor counter-G-7 conferences. At the 1990 Houston conference there was a panel on "the Revolt against Modernity" that advocated cultural pluralism. Also at that event, and again in Denver in 1997, panels on ‘Ghandian Economics' presented a parallel vision that economics must be grounded in a holistic framework. Romesh Diwan at the Warwick meeting in 2001 added that a holistic spiritual dimension is essential if people are to encounter the "what is my responsibility" experience -which is the existential precondition for resolution of any and all conflicts. This principle of "absolute responsibility" has been part of the secular western experience since Nuremberg but it has deeper roots in many cultures.
Ghandian Economics and the contemporary movements for cultural affirmation (such as sponsored by the Montreal Intercultural Institute) are revolts against western modernity that reject the binary oppositions of polarized oppression/liberation or modern/traditional. This anti-modern movement insists that we should not think of liberty or freedom as a linear process from oppression; the realities of power are more complex and require different approaches. Of course Cultural Affirmations of traditional cultures have to be distinguished from "fundamentalism's" that use world religions as ideological instruments for justifying power. Movements affirming local cultural traditions, as well as borrowing what is useful from modernity, are occurring in many parts of the world, such as India, Mexico, Andean Peru, and in the many cultural autonomy movements.
Susan Hunt described the equivalent grass roots movement in Mali and has undertaken to translate a French book for the TOES list that reconstructs African Oral Cultures.
A unique third mission of TOES/US is to document and promote cultural alternatives to Westernizing Development. This can take many forms and we should explore what this means; for example it includes conscience based social actions of traditional groups mentioned by Carly Rogesr.
Reexamining Past TOES Experience
TOES/U.S. has held an organization together for 12 years and during this time has had several overlapping and transforming visions. One perspective that is instructive now is Ward Morehouse's innovations of coupling our counter- G-7 summits with People's Tribunals that investigated "Crimes against Humanity". (See Ward's essay in "A World that Works" collection.) People's summits and People's tribunals give us a model for the first mission goal stated above. He has shown us that we can create a new medium for the examination of injustices, and restorative practices, that are not accessible within the procedures of the dominant institutional order. How to better describe this mission of opening up critical discourse on domination is one of the tasks of our toesbiz discussions.
TOES brings together people whose experience, visions and voices have not been sufficiently heard on critical issues. TOES has been successful in generating social energy because people are thrilled to have an opportunity to speak from the heart about issues that are "beneath the screen. TOES networking have many times helped create wider awareness and solidarity around critical issues. Such as the 1990 identification of the serious impacts of the Uruguay GATT; and in 1997 we brought attention to what it takes to create a just strong path to sustainability, as against the weak version consistent with corporate interests.
TOES events have especially focused on those issues that are systematically hidden and evaded by the dominant G-7 planning, and the Neo-Liberal Economic paradigm that it presupposes. As friendly criticisms of the "World that Works" book suggested we have a responsibility to help diffuse a greater understanding of the transition from the Bretton Woods system to the rise of Neo-Liberalism in which the G-7 and WTO were formed. We are obligated to help people understand how neo-liberalism has become the model for "economic rationality" and how it is determinative of policy formation in many spheres. Susan Hunt and Trent Schroyer and others will work on this project in the next six months and this will be part of an Internet newsletter that will aspire to communicate some of the interventions from our Warwick meeting.
For example Sanjay Reddy has pointed out how mainstream economics views globalization as the means by which labor scarcity in developed world balances labor abundance in the developing world. On this view trade evens out the income distribution; but the methodology for measuring these flows is not sufficient and therefore the current debate is about how technology must be a factor in widening income distribution too.
An alternative view brings in ‘the bargaining effect' (Brofenbrenner —Cornell); for example where the threat to move abroad is used by companies and the consequences of this are more serious than neo-liberal theory admits. Hence power of capital is a factor that economistic measures evade and is not included in economic analysis. Hence a global "race to the bottom" is inherent in the institutional framework where the ‘the bargaining effect' is a determinative factor. Thus the anomaly of the aftermath of NAFTA where wages decreased in both north and south and the weight of inflation tightening fell on labor.
But consistent with our past practice of connecting thinkers and doers we are also committed to public formations that go beyond and identify the local/regional transitional actions to an alternative economy.
Alternatives to TINA
Betty Bowman and Bob Stone articulated the Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) strategy of "inter-co-operation' that is essential for building a "no boss" cooperative movement that links co-ops, local currency systems, worker owned enterprises, etc. These are the bases for a democratic economy where there is no domination by capital. Now is the time to link the co-operative movement with the anti-sweatshop and fair trade movements. Toward this end Robert Putnam, David Korten, Michael Shuman, and others, have documented the potentials of this alternative social economy. They have argued that many small locally owed firms are central to a democratic economy; local ownership is key.
Supporting these grass roots economics, ‘revolutionary consumerism' is aimed at democratizing patterns of production and consumption. Such an alternative economy takes responsibility for the north's ecological and economic footprint on the south. A ‘revolutionary consumerism' goes against the current celebration of affluence as a universalizable materialism that transforms "prosperity into a new virtue". In other words what we are proposing is a "subsistence" * strategy for limiting consumption and restoring self-reliant capabilities for household and community solutions to local problems.
*(The term "subsistence" will offend those who think that our ‘organized complexity' requires expert interventions. But this word achieves many things at the same time; it establishes solidarity with the 60%of the world's peoples who still derive part of their livelihoods from direct interaction with organic nature. It establishes a strong sustainability principle for households and communities. It is also a dialectical view of History as illustrated by Ivan Illich's claim that "the last 500 years has been a war against subsistence". Gene Bazan has argued for and constructed a bibliography from this point of view. A powerful summary of this view is found in Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies "The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy" Zed books, 1999)
Extending this perspective by citing Quinn's "Beyond Civilization" Gene Bazan argues we have to confront the great forgetting that occurred 12,000 years ago . Thus we should step back from, or try to transform, the current campaign for ‘sustainability' because its ‘good' is the enemy of the better; which is subsistence. That is its principles of learning how to regenerate healthy bodies and communities and how to live in greater harmony and share the earth's equity, are a wider framework than sustainability for several reasons. Creating sustainable communities are actually utopian projects when it is understood that their creation has to be co-ordinated with eliminating the unsustainable ones! The practice and development of policies for subsistence provides a comprehensive framework inter-linking ecology, economy and society and is the radical response to TINA .
Allana Hartzok brought us back to current economic realities by asking, " how do we finance better alternatives? She proceeded to give an answer to this crucial question by updating the Henry George strategy of generating capital by shifting taxes to land use. Because land value increases faster than wages and because land should not be treated as just another sub-set of capital (as in neo-liberal economics) we must begin from an understanding that we are all dependent upon the earth. A new social contract could shift taxes from labor and school to ‘earthshare'. This is the key part of a wider ‘green tax' policy that will bring together the right and the left and provide resources for better alternatives.
This strategy also forces us to rethink the history of how we in the west have related land (ecology) and human habitation from the ancient Greek "economia" to Roman Dominion and how this influenced the Christian Commonwealth idea (see Charles Avila "Ownership: Early Christian Teachings"). The Georgists have always contributed to the TOES network and have sometimes been experienced as a single-issue group. But we need to more deeply understand their perspective and integrate their insights into our set of tools. How can we do this?
TOES Role in Awakening Civil Society
Amy Davidsen brought our attention to the Solutions Site (solutions-alert.org) which we looked at as a model for our expanded Internet presence. The solutions site is created by HORIZON Communications, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF, Harvard University, Yale University, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.The partnerships that they have formed in creating this important Webpage is a model for how we can help do the same in the exploding world of NGO's. However, the site systematically avoids challenging neo-liberal economics, as well as avoiding solutions that promote subsistence practices that relieve development pressures created by the ecological footprints of affluent communities. This gives TOES a mission on the Web.
Whereas the Marxists never found out "how working class consciousness is possible", many claim that NGO's activating civil society have rediscovered the secret of solidarity. That is citizens organization's can foster mechanisms for social transformation and reintegration; where economic, social and civic entrepreneurs compete and co-operate to inform and bring services to excluded groups. Renewing social cohesion that increases criticality while also fostering trust and civility is crucial in the coming fundamentalist legitimated corporate regime of the Bush administration.
This social glue has been called "social capital" by Robert Putnam. Social Capital creates mutually respectful, trusting relationships among citizens and work forces and facilitates active dialogue and optimal sharing of relevant information. The important point is that this form of socio-cultural reintegration is essential for reversing the political arrangements to create what has been called "Cosmopolitan Localism". That is, wherever citizens are aware that communities can invest, contract, zone, tax, lobby and thus learn how bottom up politics can influence the national polity initiatives- they can make a difference.
Can we help extend this social capital formation essential for Cosmopolitan Localism to wider and wider networks in the context of the "compassionate conservatism"? Relevant in this context is
Jenn Crawford's description of the activities of the Integrative Strategies Forum as interacting with several NGO initiatives, such as: the Washington Community Indicators Project, U.S. Citizens for Sustainable Development (CITNET; website - www.citnet.org) and its nine regional groups that try to link local sectors to the national movements. Related activities include diffusion of information about global warming, energy, community report cards, local agenda 21 implementations, etc. All these integrative strategies are oriented to preparing for the 20001 CSD #9 in April.
As a voluntary organization TOES has walked our talk in that we like each other and have a track record of pulling together what is needed, when it is needed. In the dominant world of individualistic competition these are real indicators of sustainability.
How can we become more effective in co-operating with the groups mentioned above and many others too? How can TOES/US create a wider public diffusion of TOES discourse and support for alternatives?
©2004 The Other Economic Summit