New Systems Series: Volume Six

April 18, 2017

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The sixth volume of papers in our “New Systems: Possibilities and Proposals” series offers visions ranging from a Cooperative Commonwealth and plural forms of Public Ownership to a Joyful Economy and the transition to a Cooperative Economic Democracy, sharing the hopeful message that a next system is closer than we think.

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In Cooperative Commonwealth & the Partner State, John Restakis advocates for a “pluralist, cooperative commonwealth based on the principle of economic democracy.” As defined by the author, his model represents a civil socialism in which states act as “partner states” but “democratically structured civil institutions make up the organizational basis of the economy.” For economic democracy to thrive, Restakis contends that social control over capital is required, and cooperatives and collectives should be the dominant enterprise model. As a result, “employees gradually become owners and shareholders in the enterprises in which they work.”  Restakis also outlines a number of other institutions that need to be restructured and democratized to fully realize his model, including social care, the social economy, and social markets. Restakis is hopeful about the future as new information and communications technology can play a key role in enhancing more participatory and democratic forms of information sharing between citizens and the Partner State. In fact, as he concludes, “the society we wish for is being built every day.”


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In Diversifying Public Ownership: Constructing Institutions for Participation, Social Empowerment and Democratic Control, Andrew Cumbers argues for a new system based on diverse forms of public ownership, enabling workers, consumers, and citizens to participate in economic decision making and community control over resources. In particular, Cumbers explores “seven broad types of public ownership” and how they could be strategically incorporated across the economy: full state ownership, partial state ownership, regional/subnational state ownership, local/municipal state ownership, employee-owned firms, producer and consumer cooperatives. To “typify the spirit” of his model, the author also details two existing, successful examples of public ownership: oil development in Norway and renewable energy initiatives in Denmark. Cumbers recognizes that a transition to a highly democratic economy based on public ownership would take considerable political work and dedication to interacting with governments and institutions. Yet, Cumbers is optimistic; the continuing “popularity of public ownership among the wider population in opposition to, and despite, the negative rhetoric of the mainstream, corporate media” shows, he affirms, a positive and hopeful sign of what is possible.


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In The Joyful Economy: A Next System Possibility, NSP co-chair Gus Speth offers his vision of the next system, one in which society has moved decisively away from what Tibor Scitovsky called “the joyless economy” by embracing a radically new system to create and sustain joy. Joy, explains Speth, “comes, not from money, but from ‘other people.’ We flourish in a setting of warm, nurturing, and rewarding interpersonal relationships, and within that context we flourish best when we are giving, not getting.” As a result, Speth’s “new America” is more democratic; it is designed to encourage and sustain “human solidarity, devoted friendship, and meaningful accomplishment,” structured to ensure that economic benefits are shared equitably, and the “environment is sustained for current and future generations.” Simply put, life is “simpler, people more caring, and less grasping and status-conscious.” To achieve his proposed system, Speth enumerates several critical sites of strategic intervention, such as the market, the corporation, economic growth, money and finance, social conditions, indicators, consumerism, communities, dominant cultural values, politics, foreign policy, and the military. Along with crises, Speth recognizes leadership, social narrative, social movements, and education as key agents of change to help shift cultures and values, and support a Joyful Economy.


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Finally, in Navigating System Transition in a Volatile Century, Michael Lewis puts forward a vision for a new global economic system built from the ground up. Structured on values such as resilience, cooperation, decentralized and democratic ownership, the commons, and dependence on nature in demand, Lewis’s model is based on “cooperative economic democracy” and the solidarity economy. To transition to this new system, Lewis recognizes the need for strategic interventions, from minimizing investments on carbon intensive services and products to the adoption of basic minimum income guarantees, debt-free money, and “glocalization” through a federation of networks, coalitions, and movements. As he explains, cooperative economic democracy and the solidarity economy are not only ends, but also important features of the transition, as they can help us effectively “resist what thwarts transition, build out the alternatives and, whether in opposing or proposing, vigorously advocate” for alternatives. Throughout his paper, Lewis also presents important examples to illustrate what can be accomplished within the current system, including the RESO initiative in Montreal, the successful worker and consumer cooperatives in Emilia-Romagna in Italy, and the Vía Campesina movement.

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The Next System Project’s “New Systems” paper series seeks to publicize comprehensive alternative political-economic system models and approaches that are different in fundamental ways from the failed systems of the past and present, and capable of delivering superior social, economic, and ecological outcomes. The introduction to the series and a full list of New Systems papers published to date can be found here.

Gus Speth

Co-Chair, Next System Project

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