Manifesto of the Poor – Solutions Come from Below, By Fr. Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma, Co-founder of Fair Trade. Overview by Janet M Eaton, PhD

Introduction:

Father Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma or Father Frans, as he is familiarly known, is a Dutch worker priest, with PhDs in both economics and theology, who has written an impassioned, highly informed, insightful and compelling Manifesto of the Poor steeped in anti-capitalist social justice convictions and thirty years of knowledge and wisdom gained in the mountains of the Oaxaca region of Mexico working with indigenous farmers or campesinos to create a unique and successful model of ‘Fair Trade’

Although a manifesto can be personal or non political in nature  the most familiar manifestos are political, as for example the United States Declaration of Independence (1776);  The Declaration of the Rights of Man during the French Revolution (1789); The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels (1848); The Regina Manifesto (1933) by The  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation;).  Political manifestos are essentially official declarations created to make public a set of principles or values, objectives, perspectives and intentions of a political group, or social movement. As such they are intended for a larger audience as a means of increasing awareness, generating dialogue, and engaging the public in its cause. Manifestos are not simply descriptive but rather provide context and a way forward; sometimes they are said to create the future..

Father Frans lays out his case for fair trade and solutions from below within a framework of critical anti-capitalist analysis which shows why and how Capitalism and the present global Neoliberal system have left millions on the sidelines, especially the indigenous peoples of Latin America. He discusses the imperative of transformation to a better world, via bottom up approaches or solutions from below noting the vision, character, behaviour, and knowledge of the indigenous people that are essential in developing his fair trade alternative. While he recognizes that globalization has failed and calls for ‘deglobalization’ he would like to see the globalization of bottom up approaches around the world. At the same time he insists on the imperative of building social movements to achieve economic transformation.

Fr Frans grounds his Manifesto in the values of the poor campesinos with whom he lived and laboured, and whose way of life is inspired by ancestral wisdom, love of life, resistance, never falling into despair and always maintaining hope for a better future. They do not think of revolution or struggle, he says, but rather of evolution of their situation through solidarity which is seen as the social essence of humankind itself. It is from this fundamental ability to survive that the idea of the social solidarity economy came about some years ago.

Based on this idea of the social solidarity economy are the five postulates upon which his Fair Trade new economic paradigm is built:

  • the economy serves the people and not the reverse;
  • development is measured with people and not with objects;
  • growth and development are two distinct concepts, and development, precisely, does not necessarily lead to growth;
  • no economic process can take place outside of what ecosystems provide; and,
  • the economy is a subset of a larger, finite and closed system that is the biosphere. Consequently, infinite growth is an impossibility.

Critique of cataclysmic Capitalism .

According to Fr Frans, poverty does not fall from the sky but is the result of accumulation of wealth, without boundaries, in rich nations.  He says:

The system has created and segregated the poor and kept them in misery. At this time, we continue to produce poverty, leaving the numerous scapegoat victims at the side of the road.. They are indispensable for the existence and development [of Capitalism]..

While Globalist forces promise to eradicate poverty they fail to address the reality of the poor through charity and international aid which are like medicines that get applied after subjecting them to violence and exclusion. Fair trade on the other hand is an alternative to poverty and he notes that they declined all charity, especially that which comes from above, from the wealthy.  He also suggests that poverty can be addressed through the democratization of the redistribution of profits to ensure a more equal distribution between workers, employers and shareholders.

He concludes that Capitalism has lost all moral horizons, the fallout from which has been that humanity has abandoned all intelligence, all critical sense, and given priority to the religion of the unquestioned market:

The damages caused by this savage or unbridled capitalism are incalculable. It is a type of cancer.

While many advocates of economic change do so within the existing system of global Capitalism, i.e. a reformist approach, Father Frans adopts a more radical approach envisioning his version of fair trade as an alternative to global capitalism. He notes, for example that we must entrust ourselves to a different market because of the enormous failures of the global market, especially from the point of view of the excluded.

“Fair trade must keep its distance from the dominant system; otherwise it will become part of its confinement.” 

Beyond his denunciation of poverty, Father Frans develops his critique of global capitalism by i) exposing two of its dominant myths;  ii) by noting that  the power of political elites and corporations has resulted in a tragic  loss of democracy in the world; iii) by identifying the impacts on environment and climate change; and finally  iv) by reflecting upon the failure of political and economic elites to accept responsibility for the failures of global capitalism or Neoliberalism.

He also reminds us that Capitalism, far from being inherent in humankind, with less than a 200 year history, has its own contradictions that no doubt contain the seeds of its inevitable dissolution. Among those contradictions are what he, and many critics of Capitalism, have called dominant myths – especially the myth of the invisible hand, and the self –regulating market and the myth of unlimited economic growth. That the invisible hand will fix everything is, he suggests, an irrational idea especially since it depends more on a belief in divine providence than on science.  Fr Frans uses the example of free trade agreements in particular the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] to expose the flawed nature of the self-regulating market. By demanding the reduction under NAFTA of tariffs protecting Mexico’s corn, subsidized US corn imports were allowed to destroy Mexico’s dominant export market and the affordability of their dominant food source around which their local economy was built.

Another myth without any scientific foundation that he highlights is the myth of unlimited economic growth .

“The idea, commonly accepted and shared, that ‘economic’ development is a wonderful thing that is drawn from scientific progress and promises eternal growth is an absolute myth… the most harmful evil that has been unleashed on humanity, because in fact, the planet and its resources are finite. … Every day, more and more, the planet demonstrates its limits, explodes. It cannot take it anymore.”

Father Frans Manifesto also reminds us that two of the founding fathers of Noe-Liberalism, Thomas Hayek and Milton Friedman were fully  aware that they didn’t have proper scientific arguments to validate the Neoliberal system and indeed they apparently stated on various occasions that ‘we have to trust the system in order for it to work!’  For Fr Frans these seem like ample reason not to have any more faith in this system than any other

Globalization from below and how to accomplish it

To accomplish the shift to an alternate political and economic model Father Frans challenges us to rethink our rather simplistic, linear, dog- eat- dog competitive practices which deny our common humanity and destroy the planet. He urges us instead to examine our mechanistic way of thinking and world view that serves to keep our collective heads in the sand.   He recognizes that we are at the end of one dominant paradigm or system and that we must search for a new one built on fair and just principles, and a new way of thinking and questioning. He quotes Joseph Stiglitz:

The legacy of this crisis will be a global struggle of ideas and dreams to envision what might be better for humanity and the entire world.

He is concerned that under the knife of ultra-Liberalism, state responsibility is more and more limited, and unable to introduce a more social, and fair economy and that there is no longer true democracy.  Therefore a bottom up approach where citizens, NGOs, and social movements take things into their own hands, as the indigenous people of Oaxaca have done, may be the only way for immediately addressing the incredible wealth disparity in the world today.  He notes that the poor of the world, so many of whom are indigenous peoples, are furious and demanding an economic and financial shift

This means continued reliance on mobilization of peoples for awakening the social conscience.  For him it was Vietnam, for later generations it was Battle of Seattle and later still, the massive rallies to prevent War in Afghanistan and then Iraq. He notes how Seattle was an important moment for consolidating the anti-globalization movement and international consciousness.  For Fr Frans it is imperative that Fair Trade as a movement continue to merge with other movements and NGOs with related goals. Above all, he says it is at the grassroots level that all these movements must continue to evolve together to recuperate democracy, stolen by the elites and the powers that be.

But perhaps his most profound insight from his lifetime of organizing for change is embodied in a slogan he developed for his community in Mexico:

We keep protesting, but at the same time keep proposing.

From his perspective we must rethink our world and create new foundations for economic systems which leads him to briefly review the concept of Gross National Happiness which has emerged in Bhutan as an alternative to Gross National Product [GDP] . He notes that citizens in the streets of Copenhagen and around the world in general are making constructive proposals to governments which, unfortunately, are not listening.  Therefore, he concludes that popular organizations and movements must be an even more concrete propositional power.

Fair Trade a Solution from below

 Father Frans, goes on to outline an alternative future by sharing his knowledge of fair trade based on his work with the indigenous farmers of Oaxaca. He describes when and how fair trade emerged and the extent to which it has spread around the world today. He lays out the benefits of such an economy for the poor indigenous campesinos and explores a few other related models of bottom up economies particularly in Latin America.

 

His concept of ‘fair trade’ as noted is that of an alternate economy found in solutions that come from below and that flow from a different vision and purpose and therefore cannot be perceived as simply the introduction of a social dimension into the existing world market system.  Fair trade envisions a market where campesinos can  i) benefit from the produce they grow without being exploited; ii) can participate in the improvement of their environment and living conditions for their families; and, iii) above all, organize themselves in production cooperatives so that the efforts, means and benefits are mutual.

One of the major principles of bottom up development is recognizing diversity which means that although these alternatives will follow similar practices they may well differ from one region to the next for indeed as he notes distinct traditions compel the inhabitants of each country and culture to find their own path, a path that is not necessarily exportable. On the contrary the obsession of the global market abuses cultures and differences ruining diversity and hence resulting in a singular top down imposed model of globalization where millions are sidelines and exploited.

Fr Frans describes how the campesinos, being exploited by middlemen [coyotes] organized themselves because they could not feed their families. They came together to form an independent organization, the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region, UCIRI, to obtain a fairer price for their organic coffee production.  With his help they created their own pathways to improvement, self-sufficiency, food security and responsibility with respect to the lands received from their ancestors. They established cooperatives that provided them with an efficient social enterprise that allowed them to generate real added value to their agricultural products and commercialize them in the region where they were produced. They exported the surplus, at a mutually-agreed-upon minimum price, based on quality and a social premium always making it higher than conventional market prices. This enabled them to maintain their customs, culture and social way of life, while resisting the threat of western individualism.

He helped the indigenous people of Mexico to learn about their rights especially the right to organize in cooperatives, and how to draw up their contracts to sell their organic coffee at a fixed minimum price in advance, to ensure a regular income and act as a buffer when coffee prices fluctuated.

To create a market in the north for the fair trade coffee Fr. Frans helped also to create the first fair trade certification label in 1989 in Holland, under the name Max Havelaar5, which allowed the development of a market that included producers, consumers and small businesses.  This fair trade model took on global dimensions as it spread to 56 countries in the South with over a million producers and 22 countries in the North where consumer markets lay. This process permitted the poor to pass from the ranks of the excluded to being actors in an economy that does not exploit them.

Today, their fair trade products of renowned quality are found in coffee shops and supermarket stands in all of the western countries and the entire world knows what these campesinos have achieved and its significance.

Thanks to fair trade, the campesinos finally have adequate housing as well as has access to healthcare, school, earnings and work by the determination and sweat of their own brows not by charity. Fair trade has the potential to allow people to rise from misery and live with dignity as true economic actors with a means to gain true economic, cultural and political autonomy. In this sense fair trade is one of the few economic initiatives that has demonstrated its validity

Before concluding his Manifesto, Fr Frans returns to the theme of emerging social and political movements that seek economic alternatives from below, in particular those in Latin America.  He notes that they were in solidarity with Subcommandante Marcos who championed the Zapatista uprising of the mid 90’s, in Mexico.  The principle demand of zapatismo revolved around the will to live like others with the same rights, ultimately, the same struggle, that  he and the campesinos were involved in, but by different means. He also provides insight into the peaceful revolution in Bolivia where a mass movement led to the election of Evo Morales an enlightened indigenous leader. He also cites the movement in Venezuela that brought Hugo Chavez to power along with significant policy reforms.  Fr Frans notes how all of these revolutions or movements were peaceful placing them within the broader context of the non-violent tradition of Gandhi and the Indian independence.

He considers that he has provided evidence through the evolution of his fair trade model that the social economy exists, and that it is time for it to be officially recognized as an alternative that challenges the dominant economy. Yes, he says a world with more solidarity is possible, supported by an ethic of the common good that cares for planet earth and humanity as a whole.

 He concludes:

This is how we advanced from protests against an unfair market to a true, concrete alternative, the approach of fair trade. To resign ourselves to protest alone will be in vain, if we don’t have concrete solutions in order to change the situation. It is a revolution, but a peaceful one that rests on a constructive proposal that challenges the system….

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Father Frans’ Manifesto of the Poor was  published in 2012 by Just Us, Centre for Small Farms, 11865 Highway1, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  An earlier French Edition was published in 2010. To purchase a copy call I 800 668  8436   or check out the website for an online order form [this function may take awhile to appear] http://www.justuscoffee.com/node/437

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CBC`s Enright interviews founder of `People Who Share` movement & co-founder of `buynothingchristmas.org`

An excellent CBC Sunday Edition program from Michael Enright as usual.

Michael Enright notes that emerging alternatives to consumerism such as `people sharing` networks and `buy nothing Christmas` campaigns  challenge our way of life and restructure our economy and he questions whether this could be interpreted as anti- Capitalist.  The founder of the “People Who Share” movement, Benita Matofska in England, one of two people interviewed   had very intelligent and articulate  answers about what the movement signifies. The other well-spoken interviewee, Aiden Enns,  co-founder of buynothingchristmas.org  from Winnipeg  admitted that his zeal came from his religious beliefs which  had led him to question the economic injustice of  the consumer society and he questioned  whether sharing would address the issue of the present economic inequalities in society.  Very worth listening to at following URL. [1]

This was also just posted on the Degrowth of the Americas Facebook site by Bob Thompson who provides related websites including one that notes : 14th November 2012 was the first ever Global Sharing Day. It was big, it was a world first and it touched all corners of the globe! 161 partners with a reach of over 60 million people in 147 countries helped make it a big success. [2]

Obviously it is a step in the right direction but Degrowth will also demand reasoned public policy shifts  as well to halt the assault on natural resources,  ecosystems and planetary cycles that has by now reached a tipping point.   But then again moving towards a decentralized more localized model suggests that a diversity of approaches will be the new  reality – approaches that share similar values and principles but which are finding different ways to reinvent the future. Some of it will be driven by dire necessity, as economic and environmental conditions deteriorate,  as well as by common sense and  morality as was noted twenty years ago by Professor Robert Heilbroner in his CBC Massey Lectures `Twenty- First Century Capitalism`.

[1] Michael Enright CBC Radio Sunday Edition
Listen to the latest show at

http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/shows/2012/12/16/sharing-not-buying-gifts-at-christmas/

Sharing, Not Buying at Christmas (Hr. 1)

Sunday, December 16, 2012 | Categories: Episodes | 4

Listen
Over the past century, Christmas has become an annual excuse for frenzied, even pathological consumerism. Sure, it helps businesses big and small, but do we really need all that stuff? Introducing … the Sharing Economy. Instead of aspiring to own everything they need, people simply have access to it.

Does everyone really need their own snow blower? Couldn’t neighbours just share one? True, Christmas is about giving, and we know it’s better to give than to receive. But more and more people argue it’s even better to share than to give. Others argue it’s better to give nothing than to give something that’s bought in a store.

Either way, emerging alternatives to consumerism seek to challenge our way of life and restructure our economy. Sharing networks … both local and international … have sparked a movement called collaborative consumption, forming a parallel economy worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Benita Matofska is a former broadcasting executive and producer and entrepreneur. She is the founder and Chief Sharer of the British group, The People Who Share. And Aiden Enns is the co-founder of buynothingchristmas.org and the publisher of Geez magazine.

[2]

New post on Degrowth in the Americas
CBC Radio The Sharing Economy
by Bob Thomson
Alternative consumption Interview with Benita Matofska, Chief Sharer of the U.K. and Aiden Enns [Winnipeg] , cofounder of BuyNothingChristmas.org about why we don’t need so much stuff
http://degrowthcanada.wordpress.com /2012/12/16/cbc-radio-the-sharing-economy/
http://BuyNothingChristmas.org /
14th November 2012 was the first ever Global Sharing Day. It was big, it was a world first and it touched all corners of the globe! 161 partners with a reach of over 60 million people in 147 countries helped make it a big success. What did you share on the day?
http://www.compareandshare.com /global-sharing-day/

 

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What is Degrowth ? By Janet M Eaton, August 6th 2012 (Revised Copy)

Degrowth is a call for a radical break from traditional growth-based models of society whether ‘left’ or ‘right’, to invent new ways of living together in a true democracy, respectful of the values of equality and freedom, based on sharing and cooperation and an economy that reduces the use of natural resources and energy.  — International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas, Montreal, May 2012.

The term degrowth is a translation of the French word decroissance which was first referred to by ecological economist, Nicholas Georgescu- Roegen in his 1971 paper on ‘entropy and the economic process’ which brought into prominence the ecological limits to growth as it relates to the industrial economic growth model. The discussion which Georgescu-Roegen started led to a degrowth movement in France that critiqued conventional growth economics on the grounds that growth in the highly developed nations had become socially counter-productive, uneconomic and ecologically unsustainable. To degrowth advocates, ecological concerns like the depletion of natural resources, stagnating energy supplies, pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity, and the ever-expanding use of resources by the developed world at the expense of the developing world all pointed to the end of the classical economic growth model.

The French degrowth movement also built upon a tradition within French political culture, critical of the social ills related to consumerism and the misguided assumptions of the economic growth model. The writings of philosophers and scholars like Marx, Gandhi, Karl Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, Ivan Illich, E.F. Schumacher and others have informed the movement. While France has been the centre of the much of the degrowth movement, it is gaining traction in other parts of Europe and in North America where it is associated to a larger degree with ecological economics and the biophysical limits to growth. In North America, ecological economics founder Herman Daly, York University Professor and author of Managing Without Growth Peter Victor, co-author of The Ecological Footprint Professor William Rees, and co-author of Energy and the Wealth of Nations Professor Charles Hall are associated with the degrowth movement and indeed the latter three all spoke at the most recent ‘degrowth conference of the Americas.

Of particular interest however, are the parallels between western degrowth discourse and indigenous perspectives and discourse which have emerged in Latin America, especially a model called ‘live well, not better’, (Vivir Bien in Spanish, Sumak Kawsay in Quechua, commonly referred as Buen Vivir ) and now a central element of Bolivia and Ecuador’s political framework. One Ecuadorian economist concludes:

 Of the alternative concepts that have been proposed , the one that presents the more options within its theoretical framework to replace the old notions  of development and economic growth, is Sumak Kawsay, good living.

As can be deduced from its name, degrowth advocates the downscaling of production and consumption or the contraction of the economy as an imperative for addressing the ills of the dominant economic growth system, not only to preserve the conditions necessary for long-term ecosystem and human survival, but also in order to live better here and now. It is important to note that degrowth proponents do not call for contraction of the economy within the existing neo-classical economic paradigm, where contraction is generally understood as Recession or Depression and the miseries they bring, but rather a planned economic contraction or equitable down scaling, leading to an alternative paradigm where the focus is on ecology, participatory democracy, community and a “good life”. In this regard work sharing, consuming less, inventing creative ways of living together, devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community, and voluntary simplicity are all important elements of sustainable degrowth. Here we see the similarities with the Latin American indigenous concept of ‘Buen vivir’ which emphasizes the harmonious relation between human beings and their environment and between humans in their communities. In fact different societies around the world have similar views of this shared basic aim of a good life as e.g. beumran meaning thriving or flourishing, as used by the early Arab historian and philosopher Ibn Kaldûn and Gandhi’s swadeshi-sarvodaya.

Although degrowth is not considered a blueprint for change or an economic theory, many ideas for shifting the economic paradigm are discussed under its umbrella, such things as, monetary reform, substituting GDP with well- being or gross national happiness indices, income redistribution, relocalizing industrial manufacturing and agriculture, new forms of governance, the importance of citizenship and participatory democracy, embedding the economy within the social and cultural context, the ecological case for new kinds of laws and treaties, trade deglobalization, steady state economics, ecological economics and managing degrowth.

It is obvious that the growing economic, ecological and financial crises facing the planet and humanity necessitate thinking outside the box in order to challenge the nostrums of the growth economy. Within that context, degrowth serves a valuable function as a symbolic word that challenges the ‘tyranny of growth’ and the absurd pursuit of growth at all costs. Some also suggest that the term degrowth has the advantage of not being easily usurped or captured by proponents of the present flawed global economic growth model in the way that  the so-called ‘green economy’ has been appropriated.

Degrowth is also useful in the present day context of growing threats of ecosystem and financial collapse because it frames the problem as a paradigm shift which opens the door to questioning the values, assumptions, and knowledge base underpinning the present economic growth system. In this respect degrowth has been referred to as a ‘tool’ for initiating a more radical break with dominant economic thinking. One well known degrowth academic put it this way:

…. degrowth is not just a quantitative question of doing less of the same, it is … more fundamentally, about a paradigmatic re-ordering of values, in particular the (re)affirmation of social and ecological values and a (re)politicization of the economy”

Degrowth academics also speak of ‘decolonizing the mind’ or ‘decolonizing the imagination’ noting that once economic growth is recognized as an abstract idea and not an objective reality one can begin to seriously envision and espouse alternatives. Some in the movement speak of this as ‘escaping the economy’.

In the same manner Buen Vivir allows for the escape from the old notions of economic growth because it provides an alternate economic paradigm already being tested within certain Latin American countries even if only on the fringes at this time.

Another important facet of degrowth is that after forty years, it has a respectable and growing literature found in academic journals, conference proceedings from International Conferences, Paris (2008) and Barcelona (2010) and two North American Conferences, Vancouver (2010) and Montreal (2012), in respected newspapers like Le Monde Diplomatique and its own monthly magazine La Decroissance, numerous blogs and online fora, research papers from an Institute devoted to degrowth,, as well as numerous books and text books. Likewise in Latin America there is a growing literature, some conference proceedings and considerable analysis and proposals for a post-industrial or post- development world based on their own unique indigenous perspective of  Buen Vivir.

This constitutes an invaluable knowledge base and resource for not only the degrowth and indigenous movements but also for those in other related movements and disciplines who seek to better understand the current breakdown of the Neoliberal neoclassical economic growth model, its impacts, and to envision alternative economic futures.

Degrowth also acknowledges and encompasses related ideas, concepts and movements such as the end of growth, post-growth development, peak oil, voluntary simplicity, transition towns etc, alternatives to GDP, etc., as can be seen by reviewing the roster of speakers at the various conferences of late and recent writings. In the same manner those writing form other related perspectives, disciplines and movements are beginning to reference ‘degrowth. e.g. Richard Heinberg in the final section “Post- Growth Economics” of his latest book The End of Growth, reviews contributions from alternative economists and schools of alternate economic thought, including a short discussion of the origins of degrowth and philosophical influences.

Degrowth has also garnered more international attention of late, particularly after Economist Tim Jackson’s report Prosperity Without Growth was issued in March 2009 by the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission. As noted in the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) annual report Life without Growth: Alternatives and Complements to GDP measured Growth, Professor Jackson’s report was remarkable in being the first such treatment of the topic issued by an official national government body and in that respect has become one of the most widely read current introductions to degrowth and an essential reference on the topic. The ISHES report also cites the collaborative work of Jackson and Canadian Professor Peter Victor which provides the key elements for  an alternative economic pathway the Degrowth movement proposes to the world with a vision for transformative change.

At the same time a recent article Greetings from the New Economy, describing a recent June 2012 Conference of the New Economics Institute characterized this US based New Economy Movement as a large tent with differing perspectives, amongst which is  found those focused on a no-growth economy. Prominent amongst the no-growth advocates is Boston College Professor, Juliet Schor.

In general  the degrowth movement and certainly the Buen Vivir indigenous approach are critical of Capitalism, Colonialism, Imperialism and Neoliberalism and as such tend to reject the concept of  sustainable development as oxymoronic, rooted as it is in mainstream development ideas that aim to increase capitalist growth and consumption.

Finally it is perhaps worth noting that the European originators of the concept of degrowth considered a potential function for degrowth as providing a platform for emerging discussion  on the necessity of a political – economic shift that moves us beyond growth. In this respect the recent conference in Montreal provided such a platform for people who included academics and scholars from diverse academic disciplines, Institutes and Research Centres,  NGO activists, and indigenous peoples all focused on finding an economic alternative to growth. Latin American scholar, Eduardo Gudynas sees a similar function for  Buen Vivir suggesting that the rich and multiple discourses around Buen Vivir, amount to a political platform for different visions of alternatives to development.

In conclusion, degrowth heralds the need for a new political economic and societal paradigm and has opened up a space for  initiating and framing discussions, analyses and strategies focused on making  that essential transformation a reality.

REFERENCES:

Samuel Alexander Planned Economic Contraction: The Emerging Case for Degrowthhttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1941089

Joan Martínez-Alier a, Unai Pascual b, Franck-Dominique Vivien c, Edwin Zaccai .Sustainable de-growth: Mapping the context, criticisms and future prospects of an emergent paradigm. http://www.web.ca/~bthomson/degrowth/degrowth_history.pdf

John Dillon. The Economics of Sustainability. KAIROS Backgrounder. July 2010http://www.kairoscanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/SUS-GF-G20-EconomicsSustainability.pdf

Valerie Fournier.  Escaping from the Economy. http://www.web.ca/~bthomson/degrowth/fournier_the_politics_of_degrowth_13mar08.pdf

Eduardo Gudynas. Buen Vivir: Today’s Tomorrow. 2011 http://www.palgrave-journals.com/development/journal/v54/n4/full/dev201186a.html

Life Beyond Growth. 2012. Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan. http://lifebeyondgrowth.wordpress.com/

Judy Kennedy. The Growth of Degrowth (Part 1) Campaign for fair, sustainable economy is gaining ground. http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/growth-degrowth-part-1

Serge Latouche. Degrowth economics. Le Monde Dkiplomatique. http://mondediplo.com/2004/11/14latouche/

Quebec Movement for convivial degrowth Mouvement Quebecois pour une decroissance conviviale.English translation http://www.decroissance.qc.ca/mouvement.html Bob Thomson (bthomson@web.ca)

Abby Scher. Greetings from the new Economy. CommonDreams.org Aug 4th, 2012

Bob Thomson. Pachikuti: Indigenous Perspectives and Degrowth. Conference Proceedings, 2nd conference on Economic Degrowth For Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity. Barcelona March 26th- 29th, 2010

Bob Thomson, Ottawa, 11 March 2011. Draft Bibliography on Convivial Degrowth http://www.web.ca/~bthomson/degrowth/draft_degrowth_bibliography.html

Degrowth Conference Barcelona 2010, March 26 – 29, 2010 the Second International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity. http://barcelona.degrowth.org/

International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas. http://montreal.degrowth.org

Janet M Eaton presented on Degrowth and Trade Deglobalization at the Montreal International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas, May 2012. That paper will later be posted on this site.

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Earth Day, Tar Sands, Free Trade & Degrowth – Connecting the Dots by Janet M Eaton

Posted on May 1, 2012

May 1st, 2012

In a short article entitled “Earth Day and Tar Sands”, published by Common Dreams April 19th  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/04/19-8 ]  Dale Wiehoff, VP of Communications and IP for the IATP [Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy], makes the link between Earth Day, the tar sands, and free trade.

First he relates how Earth Day emerged in the wake of a growing number of environmental concerns back in the 60s, not the least of which was a major oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, all of which led, not only to Earth Day, but also to the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, significant new regulatory policies and a new generation that was defining environmentalism. In Canada we saw the parallel emergence of  Environment Canada and significant new legislative acts and policies.

Wiehoff goes on to  remind us that on this Earth Day 2012, as we look back over 40 years of corporate pillage and abuse, none of those earlier offshore disasters like Santa Barbara or the Exxon Valdez disaster come close to the environmental threats and costs of the tar sands.  Finally he reminds us of a rarely examined driver behind tar sands oil production – i.e  trade policy, starting with NAFTA and now the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

This is indeed an important insight which has been pointed out over the years by activists and academics alike but which, during recent years, has been lost in the simplistic  ‘black and white’ rhetoric used by the Harper government to confine the debate to a neoliberal box where inevitability is assumed and multi-sectoral, citizen and even Opposition input is out rightly thwarted reducing debate to a unilateral government challenge  – “you’re either for us or against the national interest”

Wiehoff reminds us as we already know  that the investor state clause in Free Trade Agreements( FTAs) like NAFTA and  CETA,  now in final stages of negotiation, place  corporate profits over all other considerations while overriding our own laws put in place to protect citizens and the environment . And  we will recall that NAFTA also inflicted Ch 6 or the Proportionality clause, another driver behind tar sands oil production”,  which requires that Canada make two-thirds of its domestic oil production available for export to the United States in perpetuity.

We have also seen free trade and the tar sands implicated again during the CETA negotiations, with Harper government officials crossing the Atlantic many times to lobby  the EU to reject placing the tar sands oil in a separate ‘dirty’ fuel category in regard to its  ‘Fuel Quality Directive’ which is part  of the EU’s effort to target climate change and reduce the emissions intensity of fuel in cars and other machinery.

And now with free trade on the agenda and a foreign investment protection-promotion agreement concluded with China, there is yet another environmentally threatening free trade- related imperative to ensure the transport of tar sands bitumen to the Pacific coast by the Northern Gateway project and other pipelines to make it available for export, regardless of  environment impacts.

Enter the Harper Budget or the “Economic Action Plan 2012” tabled March 27th with Bill C-38, the 2012 Budget Bill, fast on its heels, tabled April 26th, both of which further remind us that trade trumps the environment at every turn in what can only be described as an unprecedented, outrageous and anti-democratic assault on the environment for big oil profits as described at: http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/main-page/harper-budget-assault-environment-big-oil-profits-roundup-canadian-environmental-ngo-respo

Wiehoff also concludes that trade trumps people, communities and the environment. :”When Native American tribes say tar sands oil extraction violates their sovereignty, when communities fear tar sands oil will contaminate their drinking water, or when climate experts say tar sands oil will increase global warming, all of them are reminded that trade policy take precedent.”

But the time has come to move beyond reminders and to once again find ways to confront a global environmental devastation far worse than that faced when Earth Day, EPA and the environment movement were begun.

With the life threatening and planetary threat of the ‘tar sands’ travesty, with many of the earth’s ecosystems teetering on collapse, and with the global economy recognized by all, but the global leaders and their cheer leaders, as a failed project, it is imperative to  refocus our thinking on a   paradigmatic shift. Perhaps it is time to consider the ‘deglobalization’ of trade and a planned ‘degrowth’ of the economy. . In fact as one delves into the diverse literature of the global democracy movement, localization, ecological economics, systemic change and the newly emerging academic field of ‘Degrowth’ one discovers well developed frameworks, strategies, and credible suggestions for shrinking trade within a new paradigm of scaled down growth that would bring trade closer to home be it national or bio- regional with a focus on sustainable, democratic local and national economies.

Colin Hines, in a book called “Localization: A Global Manifesto”,  and more recently Michael Schuman , author of  “Going Local”, have both made the observation that for localization to take hold global trade rules and structures will have to be altered or in some cases eliminated. David Korten in his recently published ‘New Economic Agenda’ report notes that we will, among other things, have to:” Rewrite International Trade and Investment Rules to Secure National Ownership, Self-Reliance, and Self-Determination” because the current rules of the global economy give priority to the interests, rights, and power of global corporations over the interests, rights, and power of people and the governments responsible for their well-being. And Herman Daly, renowned ecological economist, informs us that:  “For ecological reasons we must reduce rather than increase international trade. We must move toward a more nationalist orientation that seeks to develop domestic production for internal markets as the first option, having recourse to international trade only when clearly much more efficient.”

Janet Eaton’s blogs, writings and power points can be found at:

http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/  and some at

http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/trade-environment

Janet  is presently researching the relationship between “Degrowth and the Deglobalization of Trade” for a paper she will present at the Montreal International Degrowth Conference of the Americas, May 18th 2012.  http://montreal.degrowth.org/program.html. 

 

Posted in Beyond Collapse, beyondcollapse - janet eaton's blog, Ecological Sustainability, Paradigms | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Harper Budget: Assault on the Environment for Big Oil Profits: Roundup of Canadian Environmental NGO Responses

By Janet M Eaton, PhD, April 14, 2012   It was no surprize that the Federal Budget, or more correctly the “Economic Action Plan 2012”, as it was entitled, would continue the Harper government’s support for tar sands oil and a natural resource based export economy while ramping up its on-going assault  on environmental protection .  Prior attacks had already included a weakening of environmental legislation, more powers to the Ministers in charge, cuts to government departments concerned with administering and monitoring the environment and fisheries, muzzling of scientists speaking out on climate change and the environment, and more recently attacks on environmental NGOs and environmentalists.  In addition leaks and  pre-budget conjectures,   had telegraphed the kinds of changes likely to be seen in the budget.  In the end the budget specifically stated some of the anticipated changes while in other instances outlined vague proposals that would be fleshed out with more detail as the government proceeds with implementation.

A review of the budget responses from a range of Canadian Environmental NGO’s reveals the following attacks on environmental legislation, agencies, government departments and environmentalists.

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act [CEAA] and the Environmental Review Process:

It was anticipated that the environmental review process would be attacked in the budget;. in fact the government had already dealt blows to the federal law for environmental review process through legislative changes, shoved through in the 2010 omnibus budget bill, and also through budget cuts.

And indeed it was as the  Pembina Institute reported:  ‘The budget proposes the biggest rollback of environmental laws in Canada since the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act  [CEAA] was instituted.

The Council of Canadian’s Andrea Hardin -Donahoe reported on the promised  ‘streamlining’ of  environmental reviews, responsibilities being downloaded on provinces, a limiting of the scope of reviews and newly imposed timelines – 24 months for  Joint panel environmental reviews, 18 months for  National Energy Board hearings and one year for  standard environmental assessments.

CELA , the Canadian Environmental Law Association,  noted in their response that the Federal government intended to do four things – streamline the assessment process for major projects; substitute provincial environmental assessment for federal assessment;  reduce  alleged overlap and duplication; and reduce the  so-called ‘regulatory burden’  imposed by Canada’s current environmental law framework. Their staff lawyer Richard Lindgren, wrote in regard to the government’s trivialization of   CEAA. “We are astounded that the budget erroneously suggests that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is merely ‘red tape’,” “In fact, this important legislation is intended to protect public health, prevent ecological harm, and promote environmentally sustainable development.” Environmental Defense criticized artificial deadlines for reviewing impacts and shunting responsibility to provinces as well as the retroactive inclusion of the proposed Gateway pipeline and tanker project..

Green Peace also reported that changes to the environmental  review process were retroactive to assist the progress of the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline –“shutting out the public and getting approval without fuss or muss.”   John Bennett  Ex. Dir, Sierra Club Canada,  highlighted the attack on the environmental  review process saying: “The key change, essentially speeding up environmental reviews of mega-projects, will greatly hurt the public’s ability to participate in future processes. Environmental assessments need to be thorough, consultative and science-based.  Creating hard-time limits and rushing the process compromises all these things.”

Mark Lee, Canadian Council of Policy Alternatives [CCPA]  in one of several responses to the Budget from CCPA researchers,  noted that on page 96  the Budget highlighted six projects that would benefit from consolidated review- three oil and gas pipelines, a gold mine and a uranium mine as well as documenting  70 major projects on file and a foreseeable  500 projects over the decade. Finally, Simon Dyer, Policy Director,Pembina Institute wrote: “To date, companies have proposed quadrupling oilsands production. Given this planned increase in output, it seems reasonable that our government ought to be enhancing — not reducing — Canada’s capacity to assess the impacts of this level of activity. Yet the new federal budget proposes a 40 percent budget cut for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.”

Fisheries Act  

Two weeks prior to Budget day text of proposed changes to the Fisheries Act was leaked to the media.  Otto Langer, a 32 year veteran of the Departments of Environment and  Fisheries with expertise in habitat and water quality issues, revealed that he had been leaked a confidential copy of proposed changes to Fisheries Act as directed by the political levels within the Harper Government. He noted that the government is totally re-writing the habitat protection provisions of Section 35(1) so as to remove habitat protection out of the Fisheries Act. “This is a serious situation and will put Canada back to where we were in the pre 1976 period when  Canada had no laws to protect fish habitat and no way to monitor the great industrial expansion that occurred in Canada with the consequential loss of major fish habitat all across Canada.”

As had been widely noted at the time, removing ‘habitat protection’ from the Fisheries Act  would emasculate  the law essentially removing the trigger for  environmental assessments and potentially leaving the final decision in the hands of the Minister. The trigger now would be whether the project might be harmful to economically, ecologically or culturally useful fish as if one can separate out those influences in an ecosystem. .

Ecojustice in their response to the budget noted that the actual law was not changed in the budget but at the same time that there was no indication it wouldn’t be.  And Canadian Wildlife Federation, [CWF]’s response noted that they remain concerned, about the possible weakening of regulations to protect fish and fish habitat, while acknowledging that the anticipated cut was not in the budget.

So while the government could still bring this legislation forward  it is also possible that this  brash and misguided intention, rebuking good governance and ecological principles,  has been sidelined by a massive backlash ,within a few days of the leak,  from  some 625 scientists, among them 18 Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada,  warning Prime Minister Stephen Harper against any move to weaken Ottawa’s most potent tool to protect the environment.

Environmental  NGOs

A few weeks prior to the tabling of the Budget, environment groups opposing the Gateway Pipeline had come under a searing and vindictive attack by the Harper government’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, who stated: “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost..” He went on to say: “These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find… to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro responded to Joe Oliver’s remarks to reporters in St John’s saying:  “Minister Oliver has, since early January, been casting aspersions on the environmental community in Canada. To be clear, the environmental community is simply you and me and our neighbours and people who care about conserving Canada’s natural resources. … So for the minister to allege that environmentalists are simply trying to cause interference, it’s spurious.”

And as anticipated the budget did continue its attack on environmental NGOs. According to CELA the budget stated there would be no funding from outside Canada allowed for environmental NGOs while CRA, the Canada Revenue agency,  would receive 8 million dollars to impose scrutiny on NGO’s. . Ecojustice noted as regards charitable status – there would also be increased reporting requirements. Greenpeace referred to it as an all out attack on environment groups that are charities wherein the government is going to change the law to make it harder to engage in legal political action. Environmental Defense minced no words stating that the needless proposed changes to charitable regulations are clearly part and parcel of an agenda to expedite industrial projects in an inappropriate manner.”

This attack on environmental groups led one of Canada’s best known and revered environmentalists, Dr. David Suzuki, to step down from the foundation he helped create, so that he could continue to speak out on issues without harming the foundation’s charitable status. In doing so he stated in an open letter posted Friday on the foundation’s website: I want to speak freely without fear that my words will be deemed too political, and harm the organization of which I am so proud,”

Another high-profile environmental activist Tzeporah Berman recently left her position with Greenpeace International, so that she could focus on Canadian politics. According to the April 14th Vancouver Sun , Suzuki’s and Berman’s decisions were made because  the federal Conservative government has targeted groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation as “environmental radicals” that are stopping resource development in Canada.

Environmental advisory groups – NRTEE

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy  [NRTEE] was founded in 1988 in the lead up to the Rio Earth Summit, to give  independent, non-partisan, consensus-based advice to the federal government.

The Hill Times reported that NRTEE’s budget will be cut by $200,000 this year, and completely eliminated by the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

Elizabeth May former head of Sierra Club Canada and now Green party leader who served as a member of NRTEE and former Vice- Chair stated in regard to the axing of NRTEE:

“The whole point of the round table was to engage business leaders with trade unions and environmental groups and First Nations, so there’s no other place. There’s no other forum in which those groups work together to develop advice to government. It’s simply absurd.” she told The Hill Times. “Peter Kent can say he can find it on the internet but I challenge him to find any websites that engage decision-making processes from multi-stakeholder decision-making based on a consensus model. They just killed it.”

ThePembina Institute said NRTEE has been the single greatest source of constructive, third-party research and advice on climate change policy to the federal government. “Wiping out this respected think-tank . . . will make it that much harder for Canada to do its fair share in addressing the climate challenge.”

Environment Canada

In regard to ongoing cuts to Environment Canada the Council of Canadians reported : “As promised, the budget delivered steep cuts. Environment Canada’s budget is being cut again, this time by 6% and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is in line for a 40 per cent cut in the new budget year.”

The Hill times reported that Environment Canada had its budget cut by $88-million over the next three years, while the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will see its budget cut by $79-million over the same time period.

The one bright light in the budget for Environment Canada was on going funding for the Species at Risk Act  SARA. Asnoted by CPAWS, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society,  the Green Budget Coalition hadmade this a priority recommendation to the Federal Government and CPAWS  was encouraged to see it reflected in the budget itself.

The Canadian Federation of Wildlife also stated that upon initial review, the government’s re-investment into Species At Risk Act and water quality appears positive.

Energy and the environment

Regarding energy references in the budget, Tides and Nature Canada noted”There doesn’t appear to be anything in this budget that will move Canada toward the low-carbon clean energy future” The  Council of Canadians looked at the budget to find  reference to energy and found it wanting- with no renewal funding for eco-efficiency; no phase out of tar sands subsidies; no prioritization of green infrastructure spending; no funding to global south for international climate finance and no spending on energy and environment.

Kairos also commented  on the energy proposals in the budget.  It noted that there was no budget commitment to addressing climate change and stated on the contrary, that by dismantling the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the government will silence a public voice warning about the dangers to life on Earth posed by climate change. Like the Council, Kairos also noted that the budget failed to restore funding to programs for retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency or for public transit.

Consequences of the budget from environmental NGO perspectives 

To assess the consequences of the government’s budget and the extent of the attack on the environment in this budget it is worthwhile noting what Canadian environmental NGO’s have said in their immediate responses after reviewing the budget.

John Bennett, Ex DirSierra Club Canada concluded: “The Harper government has done a great injustice not only to the environment but to all Canadians and future generations.”  The West Coast Environmental Law Association told us “for decades Canadians have depended on the federal government to safeguard our families and nature from pollution, toxic contamination, and other environmental problems through a safety net of environmental laws. Today’s budget would cut up this safety net to serve the interests of a few big companies at the expense of all Canadians”.

Environmental Defence stated: “The plan to weaken one of Canada’s foremost environmental laws outlined in today’s budget is  a cynical attack on one of Canada’s most important environmental protections and it serves the immediate interests of one industry .. Big oil wins big time at the expense of all Canadians, our health, and our right to open democratic debate` Also concerned about the fate of democratic debate was Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada who stated :  “ this government is trying to intimidate those who disagree with it and shut down democratic debate.”  .

Others, like Mark Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives [CCPA],  spoke of the retrogressive  economic approach supported in the budget, calling it a budget buttressed by ‘a colonial vision of the economy as a quarry for foreign investment open to any foreign investor who wants our resources instead of ensuring development of these resources in a sustainable manner to ensure long term needs like energy security. Meanwhile Ecojustice drew attention to the importance of  environmental law by noting that the Harper government’s  vision for a Canada fuelled by big  oil and gas revenues only underscores the need for even stronger environmental laws to protect Canadians and their environment not weaker laws which mean a weaker Canada.”

Finally Simon Dyer, Policy Director of the Pembina Institute wrote in an article entitled “Oil sands and environmental review”: ”Rather than presenting a barrier to investment, a strong regulatory system is key to attracting capital by ensuring a stable and predictable playing field for investors. Controversy over environmental mismanagement and the government’s apparent unwillingness to set and enforce environmental rules compromise Canada’s ability to export or market oilsands — these factors pose far bigger long-term risks to prospective developers than Canada’s current environmental review process.”

Final Comments on  the Big Picture Agenda of  Big Oil’s  Environmental Assault

Examining the agenda of Big Oil from a global perspective reveals a disturbing trend spelled out just a few days after the federal budget  by  US Professor Michael T. Klare in an ‘eye opening’ article entitled  “How the Big Energy Companies Plan to Turn the United States into a Third World Petro State.”   He chronicles the development of oil for 100 years in the US until the production peaked in the 1970s, and environmental laws and regulations were strengthened, which led the  giant oil firms  to increase their search for new reserves in the  Global South in countries with compliant governments and  few or non-existent environmental regulations. Then Klare refers to the next major geographical shift – what he calls ‘the energy surprise of the 21st Century’ noting:  “with operating conditions growing increasingly difficult in the global South, the major firms are now flocking back to North America to exploit previously neglected reserves on this continent.” The deeply neglected reserves he is referring to are inaccessible deep sea oil, the Canadian tar sands and fracked oil and gas.

Klare’s analysis helps us to see a potentially more sinister side to the budget’s  assault on the environment: “The formula for making Canada and the U.S. the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century is grim but relatively simple: environmental protections will have to be eviscerated and those who stand in the way, from landowners to local environmental protection groups, bulldozed out of the way.  Put another way, North America will have to be ‘Third-Worldified.’ ”

Canadians beware. We all know  the Harper government is complicit with Big Oil  and that  too many Canadians have grown accustomed to the global economic corporatist  rhetoric that ‘there is no alternative’; however we ignore the latest Harper assaults on free speech, our environmental legislation, environmental agencies and ministries, and the demonization of Canadian environmentalists, at our own peril.

REFERENCES:

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives [CCPA].  A budget that screws the planet for short-term profits March 29th, 2012 by Marc Lee   http://www.behindthenumbers.ca/2012/03/29/a-budget-that-screws-the-planet-for-short-term-profits/

Canadian Environmental Law Association [CELA].  CELA´s Response: Letter to The Right Hon. Stephen Harper  Re: Parliamentary Review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act: Proposals for Reform http://www.cela.ca/sites/cela.ca/files/827CELA%20LetterP.M.Harper-CEAAReform%28March%2027%2C%202012%29.pdf

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society  [CPAWS] Nature in the Federal Budget Published on Mar 30 2012 | by Éric Hébert-Daly
http://cpaws.org/blog/nature-in-the-federal-budget

Canadian Wildlife Federation seeks details from federal budget  March 30, 2012 http://www.cwf-fcf.org/en/about-cwf/media-centre/releases/canadian- wildlife-federation-1.html

Council of Canadians: MEDIA RELEASE For Immediate Release March 29, 2012  Federal budget bad for people and the planet, says Council of Canadians http://www.canadians.org/media/other/2012/29-Mar-12.html

Council of Canadians : Budget 2012: Good for Big Oil, Bad for People and the Environment By Andrea Harden-Donahue, Friday, March 30th, 2012 http://canadians.org/blog/?p=14397

Environmental Defence: Statement from  Deputy Campaign Director, Gillian McEachern, in response to today´s federal budget http://environmentaldefence.ca/articles/statement-
environmental-defence-deputy-campaign-director-gillian-mceachern-in-response-toda

Green Peace Canada. Big Oil wins big in federal budget.
Blogpost by Keith Stewart – March 29, 2012 at 17:58
http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/Blog/big-oil-wins-big-in-federal-budget/blog/39780/

KAIROS Analysis of the 2012 Federal Budget, April 3, 2012 By KAIROS http://www.kairoscanada.org/sustainability/global-finance/kairos-analysis-of-the-2012-federal-budget/

Pembina reacts to 2011 federal budget: Budget ignores opportunities
to create new jobs and compete in clean energy economy Released:
March 22, 2011 http://www.pembina.org/media-release/2183

Pembina Institute. Oil sands and environmental review: Faulty premise underlies Budget 2012 “streamlining” promise. By Simon Dyer, Policy Director, Pembina Institute.
http://www.straightgoods.ca/2012/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=314&Cookies=yes

Sierra Club Canada Release” Budget: Canadians have no say in environmental laws Sierra Club Canada Release, March 29, 2012
http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/tar-sands/media/release/canadians-have-no-say-environmental-laws.

Tides and Nature Canada. No green future in
Conservative budget, say Tides and Nature Canada. Alexis Stoymenoff, March  29th, 2012
http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/03/29/no-green-future- conservative-budget-say-tides-and-nature-canada?page=0,0

West Coast Environmental law reacts to budget rollbacks of long-
standing legal protections for the environment. Thursday, March 29,
2012 http://www.wcel.org/media-centre/media-releases/west-coast-environmental-law-reacts-budget-rollbacks-long-standing-legal

Scientists pressure PM over Fisheries Act: ‘Weakening habitat
protection’ would make Canada look irresponsible, ecology professor
says. By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun March 23, 2012
http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Scientists+pressure+over+Fisher
ies/6347453/story.html#ixzz1s9RdzV7x

Don’t Gut Fisheries Act, Plead 625 Scientists. Tories plan to stop protecting waterways with fish deemed to lack ‘economic, cultural or ecological value.’ By Andrew Nikiforuk, 24 Mar2012, TheTyee.ca http://thetyee.ca/News/2012/03/24/Fisheries-Act-Gutting/

Elizabeth May Takes on Joe Oliver: Green leader responds to resource minister’s ‘open letter’ slamming ‘environmentalists and other radicals. By Elizabeth May, 10 Jan 2012, TheTyee.ca
http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/01/10/May-Takes-On-Oliver/

David Suzuki leaves foundation he helped create
By GORDON HOEKSTRA, VANCOUVER SUN April 14, 2012
http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/David+Suzuki+leaves+foundation+
helped+create/6460384/story.html#ixzz1s9VV8abO

Feds kill NRTEE, opposition critics say it´s `peanuts´ in savings
Published: Monday, 04/09/2012 12:01 am EDT Last Updated: Tuesday,04/10/2012 3:59 pm EDT
http://www.hilltimes.com/news/news/2012/04/09/feds-kill-nrtee-
opposition-critics-say-it%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98peanuts%E2%80%99-in-savings/30383

How the Big Energy Companies Plan to Turn the United States into a
Third-World Petro-State  By Michael T. Klare, April 1, 2012
http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175523/

Posted in Collapse & Beyond Collapse, Ecological Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Occupy Economics: How the Occupy Movement has Helped to Shift the Economic Paradigm.

By Janet M Eaton, March 18, 2012

In my first blog on this site I asked if the Occupy Movement, still in its early stages at the time, might portend a whole system shift? [1]  In  this blog I look back to see what accomplishments the  Occupy Movement has made in helping to shift the economic paradigm.

Before doing so, it is useful to examine a framework for change put forward by US Economist, author of America Beyond Capitalism, and supporter of the Occupy Movement, Professor Gar Alperovitz.  [2]

Alperovitz, notes  that the struggle of the 99% against the 1% is fundamentally a struggle to alter distribution of wealth and that the highly unequal distribution of wealth produces a highly unequal distribution of political power. He cites Supreme Court Justice Brandeis in this regard:

“ We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentration in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both”.

Alperovitz then poses the   critical and central question of this dilemma:  “How might we go about changing the distribution of wealth?

He describes  three models  1) Reform, 2) Revolution and 3) Evolutionary Reconstructionism , the latter being a term he coined to describe a construct he evolved from his observations and studies of grass roots economic initiatives occurring across the US over many  years.  He notes that the first two models are the main ones found in the history books and also the ones that have traditionally failed.

According to Alperovitz the first model, Reform,  assumes  that the same corporate institutions remain central to the system but with regulations controlling or constraining them or by redistributing wealth through progressive taxation. And he states that  the crisis we face today reflects the failure of that approach.

The second Model, Revolution, according to Alperovitz, assumes that change can come about by confiscating wealth and redistributing it by popular fiat overturning  the existing legal basis of property relations, which occurs during an acute crisis and usually, but not always, by violence.  He claims that looking back at most revolutions throughout  history shows us that moments of expropriation are often quickly undone with wealth and power concentrating in the hands of a post- revolutionary elite.

[However, it should be noted that there are modern examples of revolutions that have been successful in the Global South, as  for example, the indigenous inspired Socialist revolutions in Latin America where, as soon as the dictatorships were  replaced, major policy shifts occurred that successfully redistributed the wealth and opportunities including e.g. land redistribution, nationalization of oil and other natural resource industries with profits redistributed to eradicate adult illiteracy, implement nation wide  health programs, develop food cooperatives and price controls to alleviate hunger etc. These are well documented in a Canadian online radio production The Latin American Revolution produced by Asad Ismi and Kristin Schwartz]  [3 ]

c) The third process, Evolutionary Reconstructionism, Alperovitz defines as a Third Way wherein, beneath the radar, a new paradigm has been emerging quietly over the past decades. Instead of regulating wealth (reform) or seizing wealth (revolution) he avers that this third option is steadily democratizing wealth over time and creating the underlying institutional blocks of  a new  system, inserting  new institutions into the system, and transforming it piece by piece toward a more equal and democratic society.  He provides numbers to show the significant growth in worker co-operatives, coalitions of co-operatives, community development corporations, and community and public sector forms of banking all of which keep money in the local economy or as he calls it democratizing wealth.  He also notes that ultimately larger scale institutional changes are also essential especially in regard to the financial, banking  and health care systems.

Another framework that may be helpful in identifying significant  economic shifts is one that I transcribed from a speech given by economist, activist, and author David Korten at the Alliance for Democracy, Founding Convention 11/ 21/ 96. In this keynote address entitled When Corporations Rule the World he contrasted characteristics of a Global Economic paradigm with a Planetary Economic Paradigm which is equivalent to a systemic economic paradigm shift.

It is evident from Korten’s framework that the methods of the Occupy Movement discussed below which emphasize a smaller scale, grass roots, and consensus building form of local democracy provide a potential political process for achieving a planetary economy, as described by Korten.

David Korten’s Comparison of a Global Economy and Planetary Systemic Economy

GLOBAL ECONOMY PLANETARY ECONOMY
Promotes a globalized market & absentee ownership Promotes local markets and local ownership
Puts money & corporations first Puts people, nature & communities first
Advances material & financial growth Advances spiritual , local & intellectual growth
Treats nature as a mine & dump Treats nature as co-producer & source of life
Maximizes material consumption Maximizes quality of life
Nurtures monoculture Nurtures multiculture – cultural & biological diversity
Promotes global competition & communities vs. community Promotes global cooperation & planetary consciousness
Resulting in economic exclusion & inequality Resulting in economic inclusion & security

It is also instructive to note that the self-organizing,  grass roots approaches to economics identified and espoused by Alperovitz,  Korten, and others  like Z Magazine’s Michael Alpert are also found in a multitude of  community based local economic initiatives underway  around the globe in response to fears of financial collapse, climate change, peak oil, food crises etc. and the futility of the dominant materialistic culture.  Many of these economic alternatives, such as Eco-villages, transition towns and communities, other post peak oil intentional communities, voluntary simplicity, local food movements, worker co-ops and other community economic development initiatives  are in alignment with the Occupy Movement’s values and ways of organizing.

By reviewing the literature and reports on the Occupy Movement, with these  framework in mind, it was possible to find reference to and examples of emergent economic paradigm shifts, in particular by:

(a) examining  the analysis of intellectuals who have been observing the movement,

(b) observing specific actions of the movement  and

(c)  grasping the possible implications and meaning of the interaction between Occupiers and economists and  academics  who have been assisting and offering advice to the Occupy Movement and of students who have been protesting neoliberal economics in their universities.

First of all  the Occupy Movement has created a useful space where finally the elephant in the room is  exposed and legitimate discussion of the dysfunction of the present economic system is now widely underway from mainstream media to politicians, to academia, to students, as well as  average citizens.  Slovenian philosopher, and Professor Slavoj Zizek, popularized in Adbusters, and widely interviewed when the Occupy Movement was in full swing perhaps said it best in one of his interviews with Al Jezeera:

The basic insight I see is that clearly for the first time, the underlying perception is that there is a flaw in the system as such. It’s not just the question of making the system better. The system has lost its self-evidence, its automatic legitimacy. And now the field is open. This is a very important achievement. [4]

Zizek’s ideas are echoed by – Canadian activist, author and publicist, Naomi Klein in an interview in Solutions an online Journal for a Sustainable and Desirable Future.  Klein states that the Occupy Movement has been a game changer, that it has opened up space to put more radical solutions on the table and she says that the experience of seeing these groups of young people putting their radical ideas on the table, and the country getting  excited by it, has been a wake up call for a lot of people..  She concludes that it has challenged the sense of what is possible. [5]

University of Amherst Professor Emeritus Richard Wolff, one of many Profs who have spoken out in favour of the Occupy Movement, in the US stated: As the Occupy movement keeps developing, it seeks solutions for the economic and political dysfunctions it exposes and opposes. For many, the capitalist economic system itself is the basic problem.

He also noted that the students who were occupying Harvard and hundreds of other colleges and universities around the country were exploring two basic issues: i) how to restore the idea of the university and ii) how to imagine and create appropriate substitutes for capitalism. Both are key issues within the larger, national and international, Occupy movement. [6]  

Vandana Shiva writing in the January /February 2012 edition of Resurgence states  that the 99% is withdrawing its consent from the present political and economic disorder that has pushed millions to homelessness, joblessness, and hunger. She says  that they understand that ‘freedom’ sold as ‘free market democracy’ has meant freedom for corporations to exploit whomever and whatever they wish, wherever they wish and however they wish and that  means an end of freedom for people and nature everywhere. She speaks of systemic shift when she concludes: The new movements know this. And that is why they are indignant and are occupying political and economic spaces to create a living democracy with people and Earth at the centre – instead of corporations and greed.  [7]

 Sarah Van Gelder of YES Magazine writing about  The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012, observed in her trend #2 Economic myths get debunked that Americans now understand that hard work and playing by the rules doesn’t mean you’ll get ahead and that just as the legitimacy of apartheid began to fall apart long before the system actually collapsed,  today the legitimacy of corporate power and Wall Street dominance is disintegrating. She concludes: The new-found clarity about the damage that results from a system dominated by Wall Street will further energize calls for regulation and the rule of law, and fuel the search for economic alternatives.   [8]

So it becomes clear that many pundits and observers of the movement are defining an opening where a systemic economic shift is not only possible but  emerging.

Secondly  the movement has undertaken  significant  actions that  address the disparity between the big banks and  local economies and that strike at the heart of  the globalized free market capitalist  system and the dysfunctional democracy that represents it.

As noted in my last blog:  The Occupy Movement’s call for citizens to transfer their monies from big banks to local credit unions and community banks was a direct challenge to the big banks and the mainstream system  – indeed billions of dollars were transferred in a relatively short period of time.  [9] In fact nearly two –thirds of a million Americans joined credit unions in the five weeks from the beginning of October  to November 5th 2011. As Gar Alperovitz observed: This transfer was another sign that large numbers of people, fed up with Wall Street, were ready to act in some fashion to change the system- not simply to  demonstrate anger at the big banks. [10]

Another significant  action of the Occupy Movement that has challenged  the dominant system has been their manner of organizing using grass roots, participatory, consensus building methods  which has  been variously described as originating with the Quakers, the anarchist movement,  and the women’s, anti-nuclear and civil rights social movements of the 1960s . Others have seen parallels with the methods of the anti-globalization movement which came into prominence during  the so-called Battle of  Seattle at the 1999 WTO meetings where the Direct Action Network used methods of non-violent protest inspired by Gandhian techniques of self- organizing. [11]

Vandana Shiva in the Resurgence article referred to above,  reminds us that not only the Occupy Movement but people’s movements worldwide are based on the deepest and most direct form of democracy which is what Mahatma Gandhi called Swaraj and which emerged during  India’s freedom struggle .  In this  horizontal and leaderless form of organizing, Gandhi saw, in direct contrast to pyramids of hierarchy and domination, individuals at the centre and as an integral part of a village,  which was itself part of an ever expanding, never ascending, array of ‘oceanic’ circles. Vandana also reminds us that this is how all indigenous cultures have practiced democracy throughout history. [12]

Sarah Van Gelder in  her  The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012, attributed the organizing style of the Occupy Movement to a future potential for change in  her Trend #4 . Alternatives are
blossoming. She says that as it becomes clear that neither corporate CEOs nor national political leaders have solutions to today’s deep crises, thousands of grassroots-led innovations are taking hold and the Occupy Movement, which is often called “leaderless,” is actually full of emerging leaders who are building the skills and connections to shake things up for decades to come.  [13]

It is worth noting the  kinds of principles which define these  leaderless grass roots movements include  non-violence, smaller scale, sustainability, social equity, participatory democracy, and economic justice where economy, money and investment  is rooted in community.  Relating this form of  principle centred self- organizing to  the theme of  Occupy Economics- one can see a pattern that connects- as  the Occupiers in the public squares and spaces apply these principles in their day to day decision making about sharing resources, disbursing donated money to various committees for the social welfare of the group, discussing how to begin working with local currencies, transferring their monies to local banks and credit unions, and assessing  the power of worker owned cooperatives and small scale businesses to transform the economic system beyond their encampments.  [14]

In other words the participants of the Occupy Movement are modeling a systemic alternative to economic globalization, which parallels  other community based economic  initiatives already well underway such as those noted above.

Finally it is worth citing a recent rally in San Francisco as an example of a potentially deeper and more systemic kind of protest which is emerging. In the earlier days of Occupy Wall St.,  the movement with their street signs and in their speeches and slogans, called out the 1% and identified the economic disparity between the  1% and the 99%. In this recent San Francisco protest, a small but informed  Occupy SF rally was held in solidarity with the sovereignty of the people of Greece highlighting the importance of their economic situation to the Occupy community, the United States, and the world as a whole. The Occupiers, noting that the austerity measures were designed to benefit the banks and enslave the people, cited the need for radical systemic change by calling for the IMF to leave Greece, and by suggesting that Greece should follow the example of Iceland, default on its debt, and arrest the bankers involved in the fraudulent derivative agreements that helped bring down the economy. [15]

So the some of the actions of the Occupy Movement and indeed its inherent form of self-organization are in themselves indicative of  systemic economic change.

Thirdly there have been significant teach-ins by Occupy groups to attempt to grasp the  meaning of the disparity between the 1% and 99% and what to do about it.

Well -known economists, philosophers, anthropologists, and other academics joined with  the Occupiers in their public spaces, offering historical context, economic, political  and cultural analysis of the existing capitalist, globalist system  and it’s fall from grace and  discussing ideas and recommendations for shifting the political economic paradigm, i.e  transforming the existing system.

In the US well known academics, intellectuals, and economists like Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek;  British born anthropologist, anarchist , Professor and author of Debt 5000 Years, David Graeber;  American economics  professor  and author of America Beyond Capitalism, Gar Alperovitz; American economist, change agent and author of the “New Economic Agenda” David Korten;  author and advocate of “Participatory Economics”, Michael Alpert of  Z magazine;  Amherst University Professor Emeritus Richard Wolff and many more have brought messages to the Occupiers. [16 ]

In  Canada both economic profs and economists have taken  to the streets to speak to  Occupy Groups about the need for alternatives to the present economic and or financial systems: well known figures like York  University Economics Professor David McNally,  CAW Economist,  Jim Stanford who conducted a teach on the banking system with a view to taking back the banks, and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative [CCPA] researcher and economist  Mark Lee [CCPA] who spoke on the importance of co-operatives and credit unions. Others like political ecologist  James Rowe, University of Victoria Prof, wrote to the Occupy Movement about the importance of the social economy.  Professors Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson,  Department of Economics at the University of Manitoba, and co-authors of Social Murder: Conservative Economics also took part along with occupiers themselves in Why Occupy : A Panel Discussion on the Occupy Movement. Chernomas spoke on the rise of the Occupy Movement and Hudson reviewed the banking system. [17]

As well as individual Profs who have come out to actively support and inform the Occupy Movement , associations of economic professors, and students have also voiced their concerns and offered their support and backing for  systemic economic change . e.g. the  Econ 4 – 4 people, 4 the planet and 4 the future, an organization  of professors that originated  at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in September of 2011 with the  basic aim of trying  to produce a change in economics in the United States. They drafted a statement which  400 or more mostly Economic Professors  and a few economists from all over the world, including Canada, signed on to. The statement opposed the ideological cleansing of the economics profession especially the political cleansing in the vital debate over the causes and consequences of the current economic crisis. And in it they extend their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement across the country and the globe to liberate the economy from the short term greed of the rich and powerful 1% .  [18]

In addition students have been taking action on campuses not only against the financial and economic systems but also against their profs and the economics profession in general.  Professor Nancy Folbre writing in the New York times observed:  Seventy Harvard students dramatized dissatisfaction with the economics profession when they walked out of Prof. Gregory Manikiw’s introductory economics class on Nov. 2, protesting, in an open letter to their instructor, that the course “espouses a specific and limited view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.”  [19]  They also stated:  A legitimate academic study of economics must include a critical discussion of both the benefits and flaws of different economic simplifying models. [20]

These Harvard students were taking a page from the actions of French economic students who several years ago walked out of their economics courses, organized protests, placed manifestos on the doors of their professors offices, and drafted a petition signed by hundreds of students demanding reform within the teaching of economics. Their actions spread to the  UK, the US and beyond and the student group was joined by  economics professors and other economists, to form the Post-Autistic Economics Movement [PAE ]  which published  online news, reviews and articles.  More recently the PAE   transformed into The Real World Economics Association [RWEA] which boasts hundreds of members and publishes an online journal highly critical of the existing neoclassical economic system and which has reported on the Occupy Movement.[21]  Obviously students have an important role to play in shifting the economic paradigm. played an important role in   [21]

So it is apparent that the Occupy Movement appears to be tapping into and manifesting an intuitive, experiential and academic awareness that economics as it is being taught and practiced throughout much of the world is based on a pseudo scientific discipline, the basic assumptions, values and theories of which  have little basis in reality, and  which no longer ring true given its massive failures  evidenced by the on-going collapse of  the ecological, financial  and economic systems.

In  reviewing the accomplishments of the Occupy Movement it becomes evident that ground work for an economic paradigm shift has been laid, alternatives to neoliberal economic globalization strategies have been identified and acted upon, and a greater understanding  of the root causes  of the issues and  ways to shift the paradigm have been openly communicated and discussed in teach-ins  with professors, heterodox economists, and the occupiers themselves, all of which has prepared  the way for more significant gains as  the movement emerges in a revitalized state this spring.

In other words it would appear that the Occupy Movement has contributed to shifting  the economic paradigm.

REFERENCES:

[1] Janet Eaton. 2011. The Occupy Movement – Could it Portend a Whole System Shift? Visit and Support the Occupy Movement Nearest You.. Posted on November 7, 2011 http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/the-occupy-movement-%E2%80%93-could-it-portend-a-whole-system-shift-visit-and-support-the-occupy-movement-nearest-you/

[2] Gar Alperovitz and the Democracy Collaborative. 2011. # Occupy The Future Brochure. Democratizing Wealth. Notes Towards an Evolutionary Reconstruction of the American System. http://www.garalperovitz.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/occupythefuture-final-printable.pdf

[3] Radio Documentary: “The Latin American Revolution”   Hosts and producers Asad Ismi and Kristin Schwartz . http://www.psac-sjf.org/pages/index_e.aspx?ArticleID=403 Listen to the Broadcast at http://radio4all.net/index.php/program/44056

[4] Zizek interviewed by Al Jazeera on world protests and Occupy Wall Street. 2011 November 8 by Henrik Ernstson

http://rs.resalliance.org/2011/11/08/zizek-interviewed-by-al-jazeera-on-world-protests-and-occupy-wall-street/

[5] Interview with Naomi Klein in  Solutions Journal. Solutions for a Sustainable and Desirable Future.  Volume 3 | Issue 1 | Feb 2012http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/1053

[6]  Occupy Harvard and beyond, December 6, 2011 David F. Ruccio. Real-World Economics Review blog.  http://rwer.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/occupy-harvard-and-beyond/

[7] Vandana Shiva. 2012 . The 99%. Resurgence. January/February 2012 No 270. pp 10,11

[8] Sarah van Gelder. The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012. YES ! Magazine Dec 31, 2011. http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/sarah-van-gelder/12-most-hopeful-trends-to-build-on-in-2012

[9] Janet Eaton.  Comments on Banking and the Occupy Movement related to Ellen Brown’s “The Way to Occupy a Bank is to Own One” December 19, 2011.

http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/

[10] Move your Money Change the System Gar Alperovitz. December 12, 2012

http://www.garalperovitz.com/category/articles

[11] References on origins of the Occupy Movements methods of organizing. From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere by Nathan Schneider .October 11, 2011   |   The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/163924/occupy-wall-street-occupy-everywhere  ;  Starhawk 2002. Webs of Power. Notes from a Global Uprising ; David Graeber. Occupy and anarchism’s gift of democracy. Guardian UK. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/nov/15/occupy-anarchism-gift-democracy;

[12]  Vandana Shiva. Ibid  pp ,11

[13] Sarah van Gelder. The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012. YES ! Magazine Dec 31, 2011. http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/sarah-van-gelder/12-most-hopeful-trends-to-build-on-in-2012

[14] Janet Eaton Nov 2011 Ibid;  Occupy Movement to Blossom as Spring Approaches. Groups from across the country planning actions in the coming weeks and months. March 15, 2012 by Common Dreams  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/03/15-1?print Published on Thursday

[15] Why Greece matters to the Occupy movement  This piece was first published at OccupySF.org by Beth Seligman, JD. http://hellaoccupyoakland.org/a-small-but-important-sf-rally-why-greece-matters-to-the-occupy-movement-osf/

[16] Janet Eaton, Ibid http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/    Participatory Economics Michael Alpert http://www.zcommunications.org/participatory-economics-by-michael-albert-1-2, ; How to Occupy the Economy, According to Richard Wolff by: Lisa Rudman, Making Contact | Interview. 7 February 2012  http://www.truth-out.org/how-occupy-economy-according-richard-wolff/1328888306

[17] Janet Eaton.Ibid;  James Rowe Occupy the Economy By James Rowe, 24 Nov 2011, TheTyee.ca http://m.thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/11/24/Occupy-The-Economy;

Occupy Winnipeg. Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAdxtQwYaRk   http://www.occupy-winnipeg.com/

[18]  Econ 4 grouping – 4 people, 4 the planet and 4 the future. http://econ4.org/about/mission

[19] Occupy Economics By NANCY FOLBRE http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/occupy-economics/

[20] Harvard Student Walk Out In Support Of Occupy Wall Street http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/07/students-walk-out-of-harvard_n_1080236.html;

[21] Post Autistic Movement by Deborah Campbell , 15 Jul 2009. http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/85/post-autistic-movement.html; A Brief History of the Post -Autistic Economics Movement  http://www.paecon.net/HistoryPAE.htm;  Open letter from economic students to professors and others responsible for the teaching of this discipline http://www.paecon.net/petitions/a-e-petition.htm;  Real World Economics Association  http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/Journals/RWER/RWER.html ;

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Comments on Banking and the Occupy Movement related to Ellen Brown’s “The Way to Occupy a Bank is to Own One”

By Janet Eaton

It is encouraging  that so many pundits and advocates of  systemic economic and financial change are linking up  with the Occupy Movement and that the Movement has recognized  that challenges and alternatives to the existing private banking system are  crucial.  The Occupy Movement’s call for citizens to transfer their monies from big banks to local credit unions and community banks was a  direct  challenge to the big banks – indeed billions of dollars were transferred in a relatively short period of time.

But  to decentralize banking, to operate at an appropriate scale for democratic participation, to localize investments, to move money back onto main street, the so-called ‘real’ economy and ultimate path to economic equality, demands knowledge and wisdom of visionary and at the same time pragmatic thinkers.  In the US economic thinkers and writers like Ellen Brown [Web of Debt] David Korten [The New Economic Agenda] and Gar Alperovitz [America Beyond Capitalism] are  stepping into the squares with the Occupy groups  to offer insights and strategies.

Ellen Brown who writes extensively about shifting the paradigm from private to public banking in the US discusses the problems with and potential advantages of municipal banks in “The Way to Occupy a Bank is to Own One” noting that San Francisco has now endorsed a plan to establish a municipal bank. She also throws in her oft and  well-articulated  pitch for state banks based on the iconic successes of North Dakota’s.

In Canada  heterodox economists have also been speaking with and sharing ideas with the Occupy Movement. Canadian Auto Workers’ Senior Economist Jim Stanford offered a teach in with Occupy Toronto:  “What Do Banks Actually DO? later  published on the Progressive Economic Forum blog. Here is how he categorized the ‘take aways’ from his talk:
1. What do banks actually DO?  Create credit out of thin air.

2. Were Canadian banks bailed-out?  Absolutely, to the tune of $200 billion.  And they are still protected and subsidized more than any other sector of the economy.

3. What must be done with these banks?  Tax them, control them, and ultimately take them back.

Another Canadian economist,  Marc Lee, writing in the Progressive Economic Forum,  notes  that he too had hung out at the Vancouver Occupation, and in his blog  “Occupation, Democracy and Co-ops” he suggests that the link between the radical democracy of the Occupy Movement and co-ops is straightforward. Co-ops are member-owned and more deeply anchored in the local economy and they are a way of doing business that is not capitalist but democratic.

It is significant that the private banking system,  as  the dominant  cause of the existing financial chaos, has been targeted by the Occupy Movement.  Equally as  important is that the  Occupy Movement has triggered a global conversation that has led to large swaths of the population questioning the entire global economic system.

References:

Ellen Brown Web of Debt http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/

David Korten Agenda for a New Economy: http://www.davidkorten.org/agenda2

Gar Alperovitz:  http://www.garalperovitz.com/

Jim Stanford:  http://www.progressive-economics.ca/2011/11/06/what-do-banks-actually-do-teach-in-with-occupy-toronto/

Marc Lee: http://www.progressive-economics.ca/2011/10/18/occupation-democracy-and-coops/

——————————————-

The Way to Occupy a Bank is to Own One by Ellen Brown. Nation of Change Website http://www.nationofchange.org/way-occupy-bank-own-one-1324138014

The campaign to “move your money” has gotten a groundswell of support. Having greater impact would be to “move our money” — move our local government revenues out of Wall Street banks into our own publicly-owned banks.

Occupy Wall Street has been both criticized and applauded for not endorsing any official platform. But there are unofficial platforms, including one titled the 99% Declaration which calls for a “National General Assembly” to convene on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia. The 99% Declaration seeks everything from reining in the corporate state to ending the Fed to eliminating censorship of the Internet. But none of these demands seems to go to the heart of what prompted Occupiers to camp out on Wall Street in the first place – a corrupt banking system that serves the 1% at the expense of the 99%. To redress that, we need a banking system that serves the 99%.

Occupy San Francisco has now endorsed a plan aimed at doing just that. In a December 1 Wall Street Journal article titled “Occupy Shocker: A Realistic, Actionable Idea,” David Weidner writes:

Protesters in the Bay Area, especially Occupy San Francisco, have something their East Coast neighbors don’t: a realistic plan aimed at the heart of banks. The idea could be expanded nationwide to send a message to a compromised Washington and the financial industry.

It’s called a municipal bank. Simply put, it would transfer the City of San Francisco’s bank accounts—about $2 billion now spread between such banks as Bank of America Corp., UnionBanCal Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—into a public bank. That bank would use small local banks to lend to the community.

The public bank concept is not new. It has been proposed before in San Francisco and has a successful 90-year track record in North Dakota. Weidner notes that the state-owned Bank of North Dakota earned taxpayers more than $61 million last year and reported a profit of $57 million in 2008, when Bank of America had a $1.2 billion net loss. The San Francisco bank proposal is sponsored by city supervisor John Avalos, who has been thinking about a municipal bank for several years.

Weidner calls the proposal “the boldest institutional stroke yet against banks targeted by the Occupy movement.”

Responding to the Critics

He acknowledges that it will be an uphill climb. In a follow-up article on December 6th, Weidner wrote:

Of course, there are critics. . . . They argue that public banks would put public money at risk. Would you be surprised to know that most of the critics are bankers?

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That’s why you don’t hear them talking about the $100 billion they lost for the California pension funds in 2008. They don’t talk about the foreclosures that have wrought havoc on communities and tax revenues. They don’t talk about liar loans and what kind of impact that’s had on the economy, employment and the real estate market — not to mention local and state budgets.Risk to the taxpayers remains the chief objection of banker opponents. “There is no need for such lending,” they say. “We already provide loans to any creditworthy applicant who comes to us. Why put taxpayer money at risk, lending for every crackpot scheme that some politician wants to waste taxpayer money on?”

Tom Hagan, who pays taxes in Maine, has a response to that argument. In a December 3rd letter to the editor in the Press Herald (Portland), he maintained there is no need to invest public bank money in risky retail ventures. The money could be saved for infrastructure projects, at least while the public banking model is being proven. The salubrious result could be to cut local infrastructure costs in half. Making his case in conjunction with a Maine turnpike project, he wrote:

Why does Maine pay double for turnpike improvements?

Article image

Improvements are funded by bonds issued by the Maine Turnpike Authority, which collects the principal amounts, then pays the bonds back with interest.Over time, interest payments add up to about the original principal, doubling the cost of turnpike improvements and the tolls that must be collected to pay for them. The interest money is shipped out of state to Wall Street banks.

Why not keep the interest money here in Maine, to the benefit of all Mainers? This could be done by creating a state-owned bank. State funds now deposited in low- or no-interest checking accounts would instead be deposited in the state bank.

Those funds would be used to buy up the authority bonds and municipal bonds issued by the Maine Bond Bank. All of them. Since all interest payments would flow into the state treasury, we would end up paying half what we now pay for our roads, bridges and schools.

North Dakota has profited from a state-owned bank for 90 years. Why not Maine?

The state bank could generate “bank credit” on its books, as all chartered banks are authorized to do. This credit could then be used to buy the bonds. The government’s deposits would not be “spent” but would remain in the government’s account, as safe as they are in Bank of America—arguably more so, since the solvency of the public bank would be guaranteed by the local government.

Critics worry about the profligate risk-taking of politicians, but the trusty civil servants at the Bank of North Dakota insist that they are not politicians; they are bankers. Unlike the Wall Street banks that had to be bailed out by the taxpayers, the Bank of North Dakota invests conservatively. It avoided the derivatives and toxic mortgage-backed securities that precipitated the credit crisis, and it helped the state avoid the crisis by partnering with local banks, helping them with capital and liquidity requirements. As a result, the state has had no bank failures in at least a decade.

With intelligent use of the ever-evolving Internet, truly effective public oversight can minimize any cronyism. California’s pension funds might have avoided losing $100 billion if, instead of gambling in the Wall Street casino, they had invested in infrastructure through the state’s own state bank.

The Constitutional Challenge

In Weidner’s Wall Street Journal article, he raises another argument of opponents—that California law forbids using taxpayer money to make private loans. That, he said, would have to be changed.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has held otherwise. In 1920, the constitutional objection was raised in conjunction with the Bank of North Dakota and was rejected both by the Supreme Court of North Dakota and the U.S. Supreme Court. See Green v. Frazier, 253 U. S. 233 (1920), and fuller discussion here.

A municipal bank would be doing with the public’s funds only what Bank of America does now: it would be lending “bank credit” backed by the bank’s capital and deposits. The difference would be that the local community, not Florida or Europe, would get the loans; and the city of San Francisco, not Bank of America, would get the profits.

California and many other states already own infrastructure banks that use the states’ funds to back loans. If that use of public monies is legal, and if public funds can be deposited in Bank of America and used as the basis for loans to multi-national corporations, they can be deposited in the Bank of San Francisco and used as the basis for loans to the local community.

Better yet, they can be used to buy municipal bonds. Investing in municipal bonds would avoid the constitutional issue with “private loans” altogether, since the loans would be to local government.

Sending a Message to Wall Street

The campaign to “move your money” has gotten a groundswell of support, but move your money into what? Weidner repeats the complaint of critics that private credit unions have gotten too big and threaten commercial banking. Having greater impact would be to “move our money”—move our local government revenues out of Wall Street banks into our own publicly-owned banks, which could then generate credit for the local economy and public works.

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