How a generation can build a new economy

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Brainstorming at reRoute 2013, held in NYC. Photo: Kathy Zhang

What does the “New Economy” mean for New Yorkers, especially for young people?

With a unique blend of optimism and pragmatism, around 250 college age New Yorkers gathered at last month’s reRoute conference, focused on “Building youth and student power for the New Economy.” The 3-day conference, held at NYU’s Kimmel Center from July 19-21, was hosted by the New Economics Institute, which has been focusing its efforts in building a youth & student movement for a New Economy.

The reRoute conference was about how youth can move to define the New Economy. During the first day of the conference, the term was introduced by a panel of speakers in solidarity-related efforts, defined as “unity (as a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.”

They emphasized the community over the consumer. They showed how capitalism has taken away the ability to keep all the “fish” that we catch. Other students I talked to believed that our system of capitalism only addressed one part of the human condition, greed, while ignoring other economic forces, like compassion. Many of the people I met had refused or left job opportunities in the current market, not wanting to contribute to a “broken” system.

The next day was about delving into current examples of the New Economy. During a morning panel, a woman from the Black Women’s Blueprint spoke about her way of life while explaining how our current rate of growth is environmentally and economically unsustainable on an individual and national level. She lives in a close-knit community where clothes and goods are traded and made internally. This way, she said, her community isn’t captive to the values that large companies create to sell their products. As we live more in “silos,” we are more vulnerable to the influence of companies, she explained. She also mentioned that she works half the usual U.S. workweek to show that we can easily get used to getting by with less.

Photos: New Economic Institute’s Flickr 

Another example of the New Economy explored in the conference was time banking, specifically TimeBanks NYC. Time banks are systems in which time is currency, measured by hours. Instead of trading money for tasks, people in this system can trade an hour of their time for an hour of someone else’s. For some, this is a way of living. For others, it is a way to volunteer. The panelists admitted that hours may never be a functioning all-purpose currency, but TimeBanks NYC is a solution for some people.

Later on in the day was a presentation on how to start a co-op, defined as a company that is jointly owned and democratically controlled. Consumer co-ops, like REI, worker co-ops like Quilted, and supplier co-ops like OceanSpray were among the many types co-ops presented. Legal included descriptions of DPO (Direct Public Offering), and the CFNE (Cooperative Fund of New England). The practical advice, and the examples from the real world, were well-received by attendees.

With a high number of college students in attendance, fossil fuel divestment was an ongoing theme of the conference. Many students were part of their school’s divestment campaigns, and panels on school divestment were also offered. (For more on divestment read this).

Eva Wu Collier works with the Responsible Endowments Coalition as part of her school’s divestment campaign, and is also working with the Aorta Collective. From Santa Fe, NM, she was introduced to solidarity when her economics professor at Bryn Mawr gave a solidarity workshop. When City Atlas asked about the conference, she replied, “I like how there’s a new economic practical analysis about how we’re going to rebuild a sustainable and anti-oppressive future.” Eva had just attended a workshop about storytelling techniques for the New Economy. “There’s a lack of art in the social justice and nonprofit world,” she stated.

The last day of the conference involved lots of attendant participation. We all broke off into groups based on region, and later, interest. The regional groups discussed local initiatives they were part of and set future follow-up meetings. Interest groups ranged from media and technology to education and environment. Choosing an interest group reflected the entire feel of the conference, with so many panels to choose from and people to meet in a limited span of time.

reRoute was about the re-awakening of economics as a vehicle for change. It showed how ideological the field of economics really is. Furthermore, it pinpointed how the decisions we make are based on more than greed or profit. The New Economy is a range of things, with an emphasis on human-centered economics. How might New York look and operate under this model of thought and action?

For more on the conference and the New Economics Institute, visit their site.

Cover photo: Kathy Zhang