Thursday, July 20, 2006

Econ-Utopia: Celebrating TINA's Demise

Celebrating TINA's Demise
By Emily Kawano, CPE Staff Economist

TINA is dead – let us rejoice. In the early 1980s British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously declared, “There Is No Alternative” meaning that there is no alternative to capitalism. In the following years it certainly seemed that the capitalist juggernaut was on a roll. By the 1990s, Communism in the Soviet bloc had fallen and neo-liberalism, a particularly pro-corporate and anti-government brand of capitalism, had been enthroned throughout most of the world, enforced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. TINA ruled, unchallenged by clear evidence that a viable alternative existed.

And yet, the steady encroachment of neo-liberalism, accompanied by growing inequality and immiseration for many throughout the world, may have seeded TINA’s demise. The critique of neo-liberalism has been well honed by the ever-growing global justice movement that has focused a spotlight on the failure of the neo-liberal model in terms of growth, equity and sustainability. In Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia left-leaning governments have been swept to power under the banner of anti-neo-liberalism. The World Social Forum, the largest and most significant gathering of social movements in the world, is united by an opposition to neo-liberalism and a belief that ‘Another World is Possible.’

At the same time, many people and communities, moved by desperation, practicality, values, or vision, have become involved in concrete economic alternatives. A sample includes:

  • Cooperatives, which are businesses that are owned and run by the workers, consumers or members, are seeing new life. According to the International Cooperative Alliance, co-operatives provide over 100 million jobs around the world-- 20% more than multinational enterprises.
  • Co-housing promotes a sense of community involvement and responsibility. Housing is private, but there are communal spaces and buildings, including for example, a common dining area, kitchen, childcare space, meeting rooms, and recreation space. Real estate speculation on the housing is prohibited and land is held in common.
  • Local currency, in which people and businesses use locally printed money, aims to stimulate and support the local economy by keeping money circulating in the local economy rather than ‘leaking’ outside.
  • Community supported agriculture supports local farmers by creating dependable demand for their produce. People pay for a seasonal or yearly subscription, which entitles them to a share of whatever is produced. In the U.S., 25,000 people participate in more than 500 CSA projects across the country, while in Japan, where it has been around since the 1960s, 5,000,000 families participate in CSA.
  • Participatory budgeting serves to democratize the process of governmental budgeting by giving local residents an official say in where public money should go. The most prominent example of Participatory Budgeting has been in Porto Alegre, Brazil where communities have been involved in city budgeting since 1989. The model has spread to cities in Canada, India, Ireland, Uganda and South Africa.
  • The squatters movement works to take over abandoned or unused land or structures and then secure permanent rights to the property; improve the quality of housing, sanitation, and access to clean water; and empower the poor to come up with their own solutions. Given that nearly half the population of cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America are squatters living in illegal settlements, the challenge and need for this work is very great.

Do these examples offer a serious challenge to neo-liberal capitalism? The potential is there, but particularly in the U.S., this potential will remain unrealized unless there is greater coherency among the various strands and a connection with the larger social movements. Otherwise these practices run the risk of remaining worthy but isolated endeavors, struggling for their individual survival, and cloaked in invisibility.

Shedding the cloak of invisibility is an important step in the development of greater coherency as well as legitimizing the importance of economic alternatives. For example, the European Union (EU) has officially recognized the social economy which includes significant segments of the alternative economy such as:

  • Cooperatives: housing, credit unions, coop banks, producer & consumer coops.
  • Social enterprises: businesses that put social aims at the core of their operation. There are many forms of social enterprises, including: enterprises that seek to create employment for marginalized populations such as people with disabilities, or community businesses that contribute a percentage of profits to a community fund and include community members on the board.
  • Mutuals: non-profits that exist for the benefit of their members, providing services such as insurance, mortgage and savings plans.

The EU has recognized the value and importance of the social economy both as a significant sector of the economy as well as its role in fulfilling social needs. EU governments are required to earmark a percentage of their budgets to promote the social economy.

Ultimately, it will take this kind of policy, financial and institutional support to develop the many inspiring economic alternatives into a viable economic system grounded in economic justice and sustainability. TINA is dead. The task now is to realize the transformative potential of the many alternatives that are already a reality.

Sources and resources:

© 2006 Center for Popular Economics

Econ-Atrocities are a periodic publication of the Center for Popular Economics. They are the work of their authors and reflect their author's opinions and analyses. CPE does not necessarily endorse any particular idea expressed in these articles.


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