More and more people have come to distrust our economic system. Low wages, job insecurity, underemployment and loss of pensions stress the social fabric. Compounding the effects on our communities is a growing distrust of a political system driven by the power of major financial donors to candidates and officeholders.
The billionaire Koch brothers, for instance, not only have a war chest of $400 million for targeted campaign contributions, but they also manipulate public discourse by underwriting so-called think tanks that justify legislation benefiting Koch investments in extractive industries, petrochemicals and poisonous pesticides.
The Koch brothers are just one powerful vested interest bent on confusing the public about complex political and social challenges. Add the power of banks and mega-corporations to stack the deck against small businesses and families, and you have a collision between the public good and an unsustainable economy. It is no wonder that so many people feel overwhelmed and discouraged.
“What Is to Be Done?”
That is the title of a book by political economist Gar Alperovitz. He is behind what is being called the New Economy, which is taking root around the United States and right here in Western Pennsylvania.
The idea is to develop an economy that gives people a decent livelihood in a thriving community. We already have the makings of a new economy here in Western Pennsylvania due to some creative initiatives now underway.
These include cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, green businesses, community gardens, farmers markets and campaigns to strengthen neighborhoods, develop public banks and much more. The United Steelworkers, for example, is developing a clean and green laundry, owned and run by workers, that is extending democratic principles to the workplace.
The need is to make visible these and other exciting new efforts that are capturing the imagination of many young people who have inherited a system that is failing them.
Nearly two years ago, after many efforts by the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh’s peace and justice center, to challenge the status quo — including a grotesquely unequal economic system in which, according to Oxfam, half the world’s wealth is owned by 1 percent of the world’s people — we felt overwhelmed.
Gar Alperovitz happened to be speaking on television at the Green Party convention. His vision is of a new economy created by ordinary people taking matters into their own hands. He inspires and connects the dots, and his writings are gaining more and more attention.
So began the Western PA New Economy Working Group. We bring folks together to learn, share experiences, strengthen their efforts and inspire others to join in.
For instance, Harvey Holtz, a retired sociology professor, envisioned an interactive website that would identify, map and promote all the new-economy groups working in the Pittsburgh region. Mark Dixon, an award-winning filmmaker, took up the challenge and is now collaborating with three Carnegie Mellon University graduate students to develop it.
Bringing together experienced folks and energetic, bright young people, we’re planning a major New Economy Celebration for March 21-22 at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. Co-sponsors include the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership of Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, Pitt’s School of Social Work, CMU’s Students for Deliberative Democracy and the Three Rivers Community Foundation, as well as individual donors.
Mr. Alperovitz will speak at three events — all of which are free and open to the public — including a forum on Friday, March 21, that will be broadcast as a webinar to college students on up to 80 campuses. National and local experts will lead panel discussions, and Pittsburghers already engaged in the new economy will lead workshops. To register or learn more, go to www.NEWGpgh.wordpress.com/ne-celebration.
People in Pittsburgh are hungry for change, which we can see in how they’ve embraced newly elected Mayor Bill Peduto’s proposals to create the “Next Pittsburgh.” And they are ready to make it happen.
Molly Rush is on the board of the Thomas Merton Center and Health Care for All PA. Ninamary Langsdale is a member of the Western PA New Economy Working Group and an organizer of the New Economy Celebration (www.thomasmertoncenter.org).