- The Commons
- Local Currencies
To educate the public about an economics that supports both people and the planet. We believe that a fair and sustainable economy is possible and that citizens working for the common interest can build systems to achieve it. We recognize that the environmental and equity crises we now face have their roots in the current economic system.
It was October of 1981 when Kirkpatrick Sale, supported by E. F. Schumacher Society (now the Schumacher Center) Director David Ehrenfeld, recommended that we revive the fine art of “pamphleteering.” Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson had just delivered prophetic talks at the First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures at Mount Holyoke College.
In “A Call for a Revolution in Agriculture,” Wes argued for an agriculture based on perennial grains, leaving the fragile prairie soils rich and untilled. It was a bold plan with nothing less than the future health of our heartland at stake.
At a seminar held in the Schumacher Center’s Berkshire Library this fall, Gar Alperovitz provocatively posed the question
"If you don't like Capitalism and you don't like Socialism, what do you want?"
The responses he received indicated both a confidence in solutions initiated by citizens working in their local economies and a distrust of purely political solutions. They also indicated that issues of appropriate scale need to be addressed, though not feared. Joanna Arnow's short video with excerpts from the seminar can be seen below.
January 13th was the 11th anniversary of Bob Swann's death. Bob was a friend of economist Fritz Schumacher and inspired the Schumacher Center for a New Economics' work on local currencies and the commons. The following was written for his tribute book. It anticipates the BerkShares loan program and the Agrarian Trust.
Join us in remembering Bob.
The Schumacher Center for a New Economics is recognized for its work modeling community-based systems for holding land, issuing currency, and engaging citizens in supporting their regional economies. That work is now growing, reflecting a "coming of age" for a new economics that considers what is just and equitable for all Earth's citizens while caring for our shared ecosystem. 2013 was a great year for the Schumacher Center, with exceptional lecture events, remarkable media attention to our BerkShares program, and the launch of several initiatives reconsidering how land is accessed.
America's task among the nations is to shape a just, equitable, and ecologically responsible economy. The economic is our realm, our element. As Americans, we move in and through the economic confidently and flexibly.
Even when we have achieved financial stability we do not hesitate to recognize a new spirit, a new direction in the economic, and throw caution and convention aside to support it. Or, we sense when our economic decisions have gone awry and we pick up and start again, undaunted.
Is there an independent bookstore, a local bike shop, or an old-fashioned camera shop in your community? If so, they need saving as urgently as the Piping Plover or Plymouth Red-Bellied Turtle. To preserve these businesses, we need to preserve their habitat—a habitat of small, locally owned enterprises, trading with one another, welcoming customers by name, paying town taxes, providing secure jobs, donating gift certificates to benefit the Little League Team, and serving on town boards.
On a shelf in the Library of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics sits a small wooden box with worn leather carrying handle—13 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches. It opens to reveal the parts of an apparatus for spinning cotton. Govindra Deshpande presented this traveling spinning wheel to Bob Swann at the "Tools for Building Sustainable Local Economies" seminar convened at Bard College in 1983 by the E. F. Schumacher Society, the predecessor of the Schumacher Center.
Govindra told how he had walked with Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual successor to Gandhi, during the establishment of the Gramdan Villages of India. Vinoba was concerned with inequity in land distribution, which prevented the landless from constructing homes and earning a livelihood.
In the 1950s Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, the village priest of Mondragón in the Basque region of Spain, inspired the development of a series of cooperatively owned industries to employ youth in his parish. His vision was that, through ownership by the workers, the wealth created by new industries would be distributed to the workers and to the larger community that nourished and supported them.
Identifying a Strategy
Building a responsible movement for a new economy will require planning how to create new jobs without increased growth. One approach is a strategy of import-replacement, with more labor intensive, smaller batch production, transported over shorter distances. The goal would be to create more jobs, but not more "stuff," with a smaller carbon footprint overall. This may be an ambitious objective, but it is necessary if we are to transition to an economic system that is both equitable and sustainable.
Such a strategy will take a cultural shift as well as an economic one.
The home of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics is the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. As we are committed to the implementation as well as the development of a new economics the task for us has been how to create a diverse and vital Berkshire economy independent of, and resilient toward, fluctuations in the outside economy. The process has engaged us with local, regional, and national partner organizations working to identify solutions to similar problems.