New Economic Ideas for a Changing World

Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Station

As we face challenges for the future, suggestions for adaptation and mitigation abound, but these seem like an inadequate response to the many issues before us on land and sea. We share ideas under the hashtag #invention, and we attempt to build awakening and awareness of innovation and imagination that will be the practical building blocks for a successful shift in valuation, organization, and behavior in the 21st century.

For the next few months then, we will profile a series of projects, perspectives, and organizations that are the basis for our optimism that, as individual, communities, and nations, we will find a successful way forward.

Let’s start with three interesting economic ideas quoted from an article in a July 2014 issue of Yes Magazine by Gar Alperovitz, co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and The Next System Project.

1. Public banking: Public banking, which invests capital for the common good rather than Wall Street’s bottom line, has existed at the state level for nearly 100 years in North Dakota.

The publicly owned Bank of North Dakota has long strengthened the state economy, expanded access to affordable credit, and contributed its revenues to supporting vital services like education. By demonstrating the power of finance as a public utility, the public banking movement is building momentum for and giving shape to a democratic system of investment that is much larger. Public banks, credit unions, and community development financial institutions can all grow over time to displace the profit-seeking banking sector, helping turn the tables to put the public’s money to work for the benefit of everyone.

2. Worker ownership:

There’s been an explosion of interest in worker cooperatives as a simple solution to begin democratizing ownership of the economy. An ecosystem is emerging that allows people all across the country to accelerate these cooperatives’ development by engaging local governments for support, converting existing businesses, or even investing personal savings into their expansion.

Cooperative development projects like the Wellspring Collaborative in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the CERO Cooperative in Boston are creating exciting new crowdfunding mechanisms to help communities launch democratic enterprises. Organizations like The Working World and the Shared Capital Cooperative are building national networks to channel financial resources into the cooperative economy, creating diversified opportunities in which both institutions and individuals can invest.

In cities like New York, Madison, Wisconsin, and Rochester, New York, municipal funding is now being used to support the work of cooperative developers focusing on creating worker-owned businesses in low-income communities. There is no reason why every city and town’s existing infrastructure for helping small businesses cannot be turned toward democratic alternatives…

3. Procurement politics: “Buy local” at a bigger scale

Solid local organizing is shifting the purchasing behavior of place-based nonprofit institutions — or “anchor” institutions — toward sustainability and economic inclusion. Consider the Real Food Challenge: In less than a decade, this network of student activists has secured pledges to shift more than $60 million of food purchases at 73 colleges and universities across the country into more sustainable and just options. Nonprofit hospitals may be particularly open to such demands with new rules under the Affordable Care Act mandating “community health need assessments”…

Buying local may make us feel better about the consequences of our consumer choices, but when we change the way our public and large nonprofit institutions like universities and hospitals spend their money, we’re shifting hundreds of billions, if not upwards of a trillion, dollars into local economies — and creating a kind of decentralized planning system in the process.

Alperovitz offers many other ideas. But let’s just take these three and apply them in an ocean context where we see how they might be advantageously applied to financing local marine businesses and value-added employment, to increased efficiency, marketing reach, and financial return from fishing and agricultural cooperatives, and to leveraging of local and regional buying power for the financial and social benefit of the community. There is a pervasive logic to these suggestions; what keeps any of them from happening now, here, or where you live?


“New Economic Ideas” was originally broadcast as a 5-minute audio feature on World Ocean Radio that can be heard here. Peter Neill is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. Online at worldoceanobservatory.org. Peter Neill is author of “The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society” available now.

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