New Systems Series: Volume 5

February 28, 2017


Four new models for political-economic alternatives

The fifth volume of papers in our “New Systems: Possibilities and Proposals” series offers visions ranging from an Economy for the Common Good and Earthland to a decentralized United States in Million Utopias and Community Economies.


In The Economy for the Common Good – A Workable, Transformative Ethics-Based Alternative, Christian Felber and Gus Hagelberg describe their proposed Economy for the Common Good (ECG), an economic model that aims to establish an “ethical market economy.” By focusing on increasing the quality of life for everyone, promoting values such as human dignity and rights, ecological responsibility, and ensuring social justice, the economy can be finally controlled by the citizens to serve the public good. But the ECG is not only limited to the economic system. Felber and Hagelberg clarify that to fully achieve an ECG major changes are required in institutions and practices across all areas of life. For example, the authors advocate that ECG only works in tandem with a participatory sovereign democracy led by the people through the creation of “sovereign assemblies” at all levels. The ECG movement has made great progress over its five-year history. Over 400 companies have completed Common Good Balance Sheets, dozens of city and state governments have committed to promoting the idea and over 100 local citizen groups are actively involved. In this paper, Felber and Hagelberg suggest policy changes, mandates, and new legislation that would allow for the vision to be fully realized.


In Earthland: Scenes From a Civilized Future, the founding president of Tellus Institute, Paul Raskin, explains his vision of a next system – Earthland – through a “dispatch from the future.” Set in 2084, following a period of crises and the development of a strong “Global Citizens Movement”, the world managed to move toward a radically different system where “resilient economies channel and constrain markets to function within more compassionate social norms and well-established environmental limits.” Politically, Earthland is organized through “constrained pluralism,” based on the principle of subsidiarity. Socially, vast inequality and discrimination have been nearly eradicated and “consumerism, individualism, and anthropocentrism” have been replaced by a global society rooted in “quality of life, human solidarity, and ecocentrism.” Earthland balances a focus on the global aspect of the system (“One world”) with a parallel focus on local diversity (“Many places”) as regions adopt different models in accordance with their cultural and political leanings that cluster around three models: Agoria, Ecodemia, and Arcadia. Raskin’s creative approach not only offers his vision of a better world, but also gives contemporary readers hope that “Another world was possible!”.


In The Promise of a Million Utopias, Michael Shuman advocates for a decentralized United States with states acting as more autonomous regions. In his vision, communities enact their own, small-scale systems, testing out concepts and self-organization, managing resources, and relying minimally on the market or the state. Pointing to the economic, social, and environmental achievements of Switzerland, the most decentralized country in the world, Shuman argues that a decentralized system can catalyze action and participatory democracy at the local level – a system of “genuine deliberation and action.” In this proposed system, local communities are also given economic freedom; “an open marketplace, where entrepreneurs and small businesses flourish.” According to Shuman, the adoption of a radically decentralized model will maximize “economic well-being in all kinds of communities” and provide “the best possible shot at solving various social challenges.” As Shuman concludes, the only productive option we have is to “offer everyone the opportunity to experiment at the local level… Let a thousand flowers of innovation bloom in our fifty ‘laboratories of democracy.’”


In Volume 5’s final paper, Cultivating Community Economies: Tools for Building a Liveable World, J.K. Gibson-Graham and Community Economies Collective (CEC) members present their vision of “Community Economies” as an “ongoing process of negotiating our interdependence.” In order to cultivate these economies and mobilize social transformation, the CEC focuses on ethical economic practices that already exist and propose two strategies. The first aims to develop a new language of the diverse economy and activate ethical economic subjects by looking into five identifiers: work, surplus distributions, market and non-market transactions, property relationships, and finance. The second strategy focuses on “imagining and enacting collective actions that diversify the economy,” in order to broaden the horizon of economic politics. The authors provide a number of examples of collective actions – such as action research and collaborative mapping – along with more than a dozen related projects developed by the CEC to illustrate how these collective actions work in practice, including the creation of a Community Supported Fisheries in Maine and the diverse economic practices of cooperation implemented in post-Soviet Russia.

The Next System Project’s “New Systems: Possibilities and Proposals” paper series seeks to publicize comprehensive alternative political-economic system models and approaches that are different in fundamental ways from the failed systems of the past and present, and capable of delivering superior social, economic, and ecological outcomes. The introduction to the series and a full list of New Systems papers published to date can be found here.

Gus Speth
Co-Chair, Next System Project


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