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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "new economy"

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Demilitarizing the Economy: A Movement is Underway

December 19, 2013 ·

Military vehicles (MRAPs) being produced in a Charleston, SC factory (Photo: New York Times)End wars. Shrink the Pentagon budget. Reinvest the savings in neglected domestic priorities. It’s a logical progression. Right?

Yes, though we’d be fools to expect too much logic out of our current federal legislature. As we end the longest period of war in our history, we should be entering a period of postwar downsizing—the first since the end of the Cold War. And we are, though it’s been driven as much by budget squeezing generally as by a sense of postwar possibility.

And it’s a shallower defense downsizing than the last one. And the December 2013 budget deal will make it even shallower.

But communities that have been living off post-9/11 military budget surges are beginning to feel the effects of this (so far) modest shrinkage. This is the moment to deepen the defense downsizing, and make it endure. An essential piece of this task is to focus on helping communities and workers build alternatives to dependency on building weapon systems we don’t need.

The Institute for Policy Studies has developed a comprehensive strategy (PDF) for building this alternative economic foundation, linking action at the federal, state and local levels.

Here are two of the most exciting developments pushing this forward. They look like the sturdy supports of a movement to me.

State commissions planning for diversification

Connecticut—one of the most defense-dependent states in the nation—is providing one new model for action. In May of this year, peace, environmental and faith groups joined with labor unions to push the legislature to pass “An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Future.” This vague-sounding law contains a visionary mandate: convene a broad-based Commission to come up with a plan to diversify Connecticut’s overly defense-dependent economy. This commission—made up of state economic development directors, legislators, representatives of business groups, the state AFL-CIO, and representatives of peace and environmental organizations—is beginning to meet and will reveal its plan by the end of next year.

Other states are following suit. Maryland will vote on a similar bill in its next legislative session. Wisconsin has one in the works. Activists are pushing the process in Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota. It’s a growing movement that can become a model for the kind of postwar planning that needs to happen on the federal level.

New federal supports for local transition planning

Since the 1980’s the Defense Department has housed a small office dedicated to helping communities plan an economic transition following a base closing or defense contract cancellation. As the Pentagon budget soared during the post-9-11 years, this office focused almost exclusively on the base closings-half of its mission. Now it is refocusing on developing new tools for defense transition assistance (PDF) that would helping communities adjust to defense contract losses with planning grants and technical assistance.

The Obama administration is beginning to expand this Office of Economic Adjustment, as it’s called, and turn it into a gateway for assistance from other federal agencies, including programs in the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Transportation, for communities in transition.

Local activists can work with their local public officials to put together broad-based community coalitions and use these funds to build models of peace economy transition. The more we do, the more lessons we learn about the best practices for doing it, and the stronger this foundation for a demilitarized economy becomes.

New Economy Transitions From the Bottom Up

In the face of federal legislative dysfunction, more and more progressive initiatives are coming from the state and local levels. The effort to build a peace economy, following the longest period of war in our history, is taking its rightful place in this constellation of progress from the bottom up.

Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Defense Transition Assistance fact sheets (PDF) from IPS’ Green Security Project outline the exciting new routes to a peace, rather than military, economy. For more information and help in getting started, contact Miriam Pemberton, Miriam@ips-dc.org, 202-787-5214.

Romney Versus Realonomy: A Peek Inside the Bubble

October 2, 2012 ·

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been roundly criticized for being a wooden, out-of-touch plutocrat who pays a lower effective tax rate than the vast majority of Americans yet believes that 47 percent of Americans merely mooch off the government.

It's no secret that Romney favors tax cuts that will mainly benefit the very rich. And why shouldn't he? He has a long record of seeking to minimize his own taxes.

But what about the rest of his economic program? Mitt Romney is no one-dimensional "tax cuts are always the answer" Republican. He has a 160-page, seven-part "plan for jobs and economic growth" that includes sections on taxes, regulation, trade, labor, human capital, government spending and energy.

Read the rest of Salvatore Babones' Truth-Out breakdown of the Romney Plan by clicking here.

Is High-Tech the Next Step for the New Economy Movement?

June 28, 2012 ·

When I tell people that I work for the New Economy, the response I often get is, "So is that, like, Google and stuff?" It takes a second for me to explain that the New Economy movement is about promoting the public ownership of wealth and that it involves a structural and cultural reorientation toward what's good for stakeholders in the community, rather than corporations.

High-tech will shape the next generation, but can it be open to nontraditional economic ideas? Photo by Ben Rimes/Flickr.

At the recent progressive “Take Back the American Dream” conference, my partner immediately lost interest when I said this. He leaned back and gave a disappointed, "Oh… so like co-ops?" as an answer. Indeed, compared to the exciting world of shiny tablets and nifty smart phone apps, the concept of public ownership is decidedly old hat. Municipally owned utilities, Employee-Stock Purchase Plans, and community development corporations have been around (and prospering) for decades. Looking at the evidence, public ownership is as established as the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and the public-investment Alaska Permanent Fund that they champion.

But his initial reaction got me thinking: Can new technologies become part of the new economy movement?

On the one hand, the tech market is hardly an exception to the typical oligopoly speculation machine found in other industries. Google and Apple control 82 percent of the smartphone market. Microsoft's got an 88 percent share in operating systems, and in the United States, 82 percent of search engine operations fall under Google’s control, as well, allowing it to practically dictate privacy settings on the Internet. On top of unabashed monopolization, scandalous labor practices, such as those of Apple in China, provide little reassurance that these companies care much for what they do to communities. And the willingness to fuel bubbles evinced by Facebook's Instagram buyout suggests a mindset as greedy and careless as that of any i-banker.

On the other hand, the culture of companies like Google and Zynga is decidedly more open to New Economy principles than traditional industries. Google's "Don't be Evil" mantra, and its occasional genuine willingness to forego profit for the sake of the common good — witness the China office's decision to reroute through censorship-free Hong Kong — seem to suggest an open ear to end goals beyond profit. Its famous employee perks, no matter how instrumental for retaining talent, still equip workers with nap pods and free onsite childcare. And the concern with employee well-being extends to even smaller companies, such as Tagged, which gives its employees wellness allowance, yoga studios, and quiet rooms.

On average, high tech companies seem more participatory, less hierarchical, and more community-oriented than traditional industries. They also indicate a greater skepticism towards Wall Street bankers, the biggest opponents of the New Economy movement. Both Google and Facebook show a special concern for keeping control of their corporations in the hands of the founders. Finally, there's also the inherent sympathy of Silicon Valley, a place whose success stems from the public research of nearby universities and government projects. Stanford-raised entrepreneurs should have no trouble understanding the New Economy’s emphasis on anchor institutions and rooted development.

Perhaps the ultimate answer is that the new tech sector offers an opportunity, if not an immediate slam-dunk, for the New Economy Movement. Chuck Collins, in his "99 to1" book on inequality, argues that Occupy should partner with the portion of the 1 percent that is sympathetic to the protesters' goals. High tech is a great place to start. Less entrenched than finance and more oriented towards experimentation, Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs are more likely to consider a non- Keynesian-spending-or-austerity economic model. In a place where nothing-to-lose-by-trying start-ups are the norm,  should find an audience willing to listen.

Thus, we should try addressing ourselves to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, to see if the language of Dilbert and Office Space can speak to the concerns of all of our communities.

Olga Musayev is a recent graduate from Yale University working to bring the principles of the New Economy Working Group to the next generation.

For Real Change, Build Relationships: Resilience Circles & Occupy Wall Street

November 10, 2011 ·

What do Resilience Circle members think of Occupy Wall Street?

“I think they’re crazy for sleeping in the rain,” says Carol Poole, a member of my Circle in Boston. Carole is 78 and has been running our church’s Food Pantry with her husband for 30 years. “But they are definitely doing something good.”

“Somebody’s got to get the word out, and the more attention to these issues, the better,” adds Ann LeBlanc, a food pantry volunteer who is unemployed. “People need food, they need jobs, and health insurance. This is one way to get people to talk about these issues.”

Travis Bonpietro, a Circle facilitator from Gorham, ME, is currently camping at Occupy DC. “We take care of each other, and try to truly hear each other,” he says of Occupy DC. “In a way, it’s like a giant Resilience Circle!”

Travis urges Resilience Circle members to visit Occupations. “Members of Resilience Circles have a lot of experience actually discussing the issues of our day,” he says. “That can be a huge contribution to the movement we’re building.”

When Resilience Circles talk about social action - in Session 6 out of 7 in the curriculum – we talk about building a new economy with well-connected and vibrant communities, true democratic decision-making procedures, and resource-allocation that respects the earth’s limits.

This discussion is based on what we learn about the limits and problems inherent to the “old” economy – such as how it siphons wealth to the 1% at the expense of everyone else.

Resilience Circle members are excited to see message being amplified by Occupy Wall Street.  “It’s about time we all got together after 30 years of diverting money to the wealthiest people, and letting our country go rotten,” says Thomas Atwood, a facilitator in the Bay Area. Thomas is featured in this video about Occupy Palo Alto made by two other Circle facilitators, Aaron Castle and Candace Anderson.

More importantly, we talk about social action as something members might do as a group, not just as isolated individuals. The curriculum takes its time getting to this stage, letting people get to know each other and find ways to help each other.  This creates a firsthand experience of solidarity. From there, groups talk about how to “change the rules” and make a better world.

Occupy takes that understanding of social change and magnifies it to a huge scale. The movement is letting relationships take shape before jumping into demands or solutions. And as many have pointed out, its participatory lifestyle prefigures the world it wants to create.

Still, it’s essential to get to Session 6 and social action eventually. “I understand that the movement is taking its time to find its voice and its message,” says a Resilience Circle organizer in North Carolina. “That’s smart and appropriate. But I also hope it can embrace mature forms of democracy, leadership, and delegation. That’s going to be critical to get the most out of all this amazing energy.”

As the volunteers at the Food Pantry make clear, the challenges we face are huge. To address them, we need a strong, smart movement.

“You see people coming in for food, and the pain on their faces just breaks your heart,” says Mary Mahony, another volunteer. “For most of them, you know it’s embarrassing to even be here. How bad it must be for them to ask for help.”

I ask if they think Occupy will benefit the people served by the Food Pantry.

Ann hesitates. “It takes a long time to see a direct impact,” she says. “Changes have to go through so much bureaucracy.”

“This economy is so out of hand,” says Carole. “I don’t know what will help at this point. I had a man come in to the pantry today who hasn’t eaten in four days. I give out 56 bags of food per day now, it used to be 11 or 12.”

But Travis and others think there’s reason to hope, and they’re putting their lives and bodies on the line to make it happen. “I quit two jobs to be here, dropped two classes, and will have to fail two more,” he says.

Is it worth the sacrifice? “Absolutely,” he says. “I’m sick of just talking, I’m so excited to be doing something. This movement is having a real impact on the things we hold dear - like equality, and opportunity, and real democracy. That’s what Occupy means to me, and that’s why I’m here.”

Sacrifice, relationship-building, real discussion. We don’t know the answer yet, but the potential for lasting change looks bright.

Travis will be sleeping at Occupy Maine all winter. Contact Sarah Byrnes if you want to help him buy some sub-zero gear.

Photo credit: Chris Wieland, Creative Commons license, via Post Carbon Institute.

Occupy Wall Street's Deep Roots

October 13, 2011 ·

A journalist asked me the other day where the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC protests came from. This is the story I told him.

These movements have deep roots. They were planted over the past century by the millions of workers who stood up to exploitation and won basic labor rights and drove up taxes on the wealthy to create a middle class.

Movements like Occupy Wall Street have deep roots. CC Photo by sarabeephoto.That fight sprouted a new root — the struggle for civil rights — and that fight melded with fights to end an unjust war in Vietnam. Then, in the 1970s, women came together to change how the nation thought about sexism, creating the space for new movements that said if you think sexism is wrong, why is homophobia OK? Then environmentalists started asking why it's OK to leave our grandchildren with a polluted planet. These are deep roots.

Around that time, in 1976, the exiled Chilean leader who was working at the Institute for Policy Studies, Orlando Letelier, was speaking before a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden, demanding an end to dictatorship. When he and his IPS colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt were assassinated by that dictatorship 15 days later, their family and friends — including some here tonight at this human rights awards ceremony we hold in their names — responded by turning this tragedy into a powerful force for international human rights.

Then, two decades ago, these movements gave birth to the global justice movement, and millions came together to oppose corporate greed and corporate rule. In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous people stood up to free trade They said: enough. Nine years ago, 15 million people in 600 cities said no to war against Iraq. Three years ago, millions poured into the streets to fight for immigrant rights.

This is the Peoples History. And if Howard Zinn were alive today, he'd be writing a new chapter right now.

It might start with the fruit vendor in Tunisia who said: enough. It would describe the millions of Egyptians who said: enough. It would describe the thousands of Mexicans who have stood up to the violence and said: enough. And it would tell about the brave people of Wisconsin who said: enough.

Yes, a part of our history is one of war, racism, genocide, and violent inequality. But, the more important part is the history of people coming together, fighting back, and creating a more decent and humane union.

So, today, we celebrate you all: you who are ending the wars, from CODEPINK to Peace Action; you from trade unions; you from progressive faith groups; you who are stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; you who are creating marriage equality; you who are rebuilding the American Dream and winning support for a DREAM Act; you who are Caring Across Generations; and you who will build the new economy that will provide dignified livelihoods to our next generation in a way that preserves the planet.

And for the thousands who are unrolling your sleeping bags in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza and Liberty Park tonight, and in occupations all over this country, we celebrate you as you continue the history of resistance to make this country and this world better for all of us.

What does the Institute for Policy Studies have to do with Occupy Wall Street? For 48 years, IPS has turned ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment, linking our work with the dynamic social movements of our time. And, we speak truth to power, so today, for example, one of our central messages in this time of supposed austerity is that there is no shortage of money.

And, our work details how we can mobilize that money while pursuing peace — by eliminating hundreds of billions in war spending; while pursuing justice — by sensibly taxing the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street speculation; and while protecting the environment — through carbon and pollution taxes.

There is plenty of money for jobs and for the other things this country so desperately needs.

Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh is a leader in the movement against corporate-led globalization. He delivered this speech at the 2011 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards ceremony on October 12.

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