Solidarity Economics.
January 2, 2010 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Solidarity Economics. (pdf) Strategies for Building New Economies From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out. posted by lunit (11 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Primary Sector: Raw wealth creation from physical nature.
Secondary: Manufacturing and assembly of intermediate goods into other intermediate goods or consumer goods.
Tertiary: For-profit Services
Quaternary: Labor that works to increase future output -- eg. R&D.
Quinary: Non-profit (social) services.

As I like saying everywhere, Wealth is that which provides services that satisfy human needs and wants. Well call consumer stuff "goods" because they provide "good" services to us, such as a mechanical refrigerator that eliminates the need for the iceman's labor.

What is the steady state of required to maintain a quality of life these days? What are our needs and wants? Who is providing them? At what cost and at what profit? How is that profit margin maintained?

As consumer goods advance in the utility they provide, we should need less and less labor. Yet most of us work more and more (if we are lucky to have a job). By all appearances the present economy is broken, yet I think there is a societal surplus of goods, and it is being tapped by others who no longer need to produce goods and services in return. Government is employing millions of people in generally economically useless tasks -- Federal prisons for drug dealers, warfighters and the production lines for the toys they need. Several more millions of people have private capital returning income to them from their wise investments.

But the bulk of everyone's outgo goes to the rent (or mortgage), taxes, health care, energy. This is where the smart capitalist-cum-rentiers in our society seek their inflation-protected quasi-rents, and what keeps the middle class on the treadmill, working for these ersatz capitalists. AFAICT no economy can create a quality of life for all unless the deadloss of these quasi-rents is reduced substantially.

Capitalism is simply private control of the produced means of production, and private investment and profit thereinto/therefrom. So much of our economy is not capitalism by this definition but naked rentierism (but I fall into the laziness of labelling anything I don't like as rentierism I guess).
posted by tad at 3:30 PM on January 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Ok, I read this the first time and got sort of angry, and I decided to calm down and read it again. Hopefully my response now is a little more measured.

Our movements will not succeed until they begin to include within their scope the construction of lived alternatives that meet our basic needs and allow us to experience new possibilities.

I really like the idea of a solidarity economy, and I've heard it from several sources, (often also religious ones), and most of it seems good. Where I get into the quagmire is that I don't really see many lived alternatives. I've tried volunteering, shopping at farmer's markets, looking for local businesses, but I do feel hemmed in on all sides by the more convenient options provided by consumer culture on one hand, and the drive that the world seems to have to take advantage of me (yes rentierism is part of it) on the other. I can't escape these things to live in some sylvan glen of community togetherness where not only my physical, but spiritual and personal needs are met. I can't deny that the place where I've moved for employment with the faceless forces of global capitalism (Huntsville AL), just plain doesn't seem to have any kind of community or culture at all that I can see. (And we can have a go at Alabama if we want to and at the moment I wouldn't mind, but I've travelled around and not ever seen anywhere that looked any different). I know through lived experience that all the people I work with are there for themselves and their immediate families, they have to make enough to get by. They would not risk anything if I got laid off or fired, and I am in the same position. There is plainly, no solidarity in this system. There is a kind of cruel bloodless civility and that is it.

And I can shop at farmers markets, and dig through clothing racks looking for things that don't have "Made in China" on them, and worry about my carbon footprint, and give to food drives from now and forever onwards and absolutely nothing fundamental will change. And I've been to social justice groups in the local community (often with hilarious refreshments like bottled water and other funny prepackaged things), and the horrible cynical conclusion I've come to is that these things are in the end usually (always in my experience) another form of consumable luxury. Some people want a square yard of television in their house and some people want to meet every Wednesday night and talk about global compassion and local action and we're all going to McDonald's afterwards so let's not kid ourselves.

I'm going to keep doing the things I'm doing now, because I'm a moral absolutist who in more unfortunately cynical moments thinks if he's masochistic enough he'll be able to judge God for this world, but I don't understand the idea of this as transformative, I fundamentally don't get how it is supposed to effect change.

If we're for trade protectionism on the local and national level I can get behind that. Heck, let's dictate our first world concept of humanitarian working conditions to third world countries through trade embargoes, and tax any import until the cost of importing third world labor is equivalent to the cost of producing through first world labor. I think there are going to be a lot of real world downsides but it is a position that somebody should argue. China is for sure using trade protectionism to build the means of production for its citizens. And I think there's a lot of truth to the idea that there is fundamental worth, safety, and dignity in having a means of production which is locally staffed and locally controlled and locally owned. But we should name the policies that will cause that to happen and not resort only to these grassroots, "Let's all feel better about ourselves by shopping at a farmer's market" social clubs.

I'm sorry if I offended anybody and I want to say that I don't think these ideas are stupid or wrong, and I don't think promoting them is bad. I do think that offering them as transformative is disingenuous though.
posted by SomeOneElse at 5:35 PM on January 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

For those who pay attention, we are clearly at the end of an era that has lasted a scant generation. As Rogof says, "This time it's different".

So the time is right for serious discussion about how we want to live, and what kind of earth we want for those who follow. But it's going to be a long, complex discussion. "Solidarity Economics" has a place to be sure, but it still presents more questions than it answers, and really is quite optimistic looking for organic support. At this long, complex discussion, yer goinna have to shout and use your elbows a bit.

I'd like to know more about it.
posted by Aetius Romulous at 8:54 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post.
posted by ropeladder at 9:03 PM on January 2, 2010

Localism runs right smack into Adam Smith's division of labor insights.

Adam Smith runs right smack into 3 billion Asians able to provide much of the goods and services we need at a small fraction of postwar US wages.

Chinese wages are $300/mo for about twice the labor expected in the US. And that's the good-paying wageslave jobs, minimum wage is half that and barely provides subsistence.

Perhaps any economic system has to embrace the virtues of Walmart and Target. They will suck a given amount of capital out of the local economy; the question becomes what wealth-creation re-fills this capital.

Much of rural America simply relies on transfer payments from Uncle Sam to make up the difference. It wasn't until the hillbilly photo essay of last year that I reflected on *why* my hillbilly ancestors were so poor -- those hills have *very* little inherent wealth in them, other than the coal mines which never paid that good to begin with and have their own externalities that reduce the quality of life.

Fresno County produces $5B per year of cash crops. Over its million inhabitants that is per-capita $5000 of wealth coming out of the primary sector. Fresno also is home to support services to more populous areas the state, thanks to the good logistics to SF and LA.

It can be enlightening to consider each county an independent spaceship economy, to see its long-term viability.
posted by tad at 9:45 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

-China Moving To Restrict Neodymium Supply (sorta previously ;)
-item #2, viz. detroit & china (cf. US & developing world)
-...and back:
Now I know this doesn't matter to the top 1%, they are globalists and can just move, they don't care. The rest of the people though..

This is the deal, is this economy, the "official" numbers, a reflection of the good deal for wall street, their economy, or of main street? Which is more important, making sure the top 1% keep getting richer, or trying to maintain a better balance, especially within your own middle class?
i'd just add that it's not that banks aren't lending so much as median income is falling...

posted by kliuless at 5:38 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

oh and here's a doc'd link if that's easier :P

posted by kliuless at 5:43 AM on January 3, 2010

I wish there were more links I could offer, but unfortunately many of the resources listed at the end of the paper lead to dead links. The Grassroots Economic Organizing site does have a good clearinghouse of related articles, though.

Where I get into the quagmire is that I don't really see many lived alternatives.

I think this is exactly the problem. There aren't many. And the ones that do exist are sortof taken for granted. Still, I like the idea of Solidarity Economics - as far-fetched as it may be for widespread or grand scale implementation - in that it encourages me (at least) to think of things a bit differently, and remember that there is value/potential in alternative models of economic interaction.

For example, while no one can argue that cooperative governance isn't without a whole mess of problems, people have been making it work for decades.

This is probably not going to revolutionize the U.S. or the world completely, but it might offer some niche alternatives to people who aren't happy with the capitalist way of doing things.
posted by lunit at 7:44 AM on January 3, 2010

so much as median income is falling...

ain't that a bitch. Thanks, Ralph!
posted by tad at 3:26 PM on January 3, 2010

There's also labor dollars in some progressive cities, where money is represented in hours of labor. Works for a pure service-based economy reasonably well; capital and supply costs can still be billed in dollars or just tacked on with extra labor I guess.
posted by tad at 3:28 PM on January 3, 2010

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posted by low affect at 6:01 PM on January 3, 2010

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