How new is the new in the New Economy Movement?
After attending the recent “Strategies for a New Economy’ conference at Bard College, I wondered what was new and what was not. The conference certainly succeeded in demonstrating that a new economy exits. Check out the map of the Global Transitions Map of the New Economy. My question is whether or not this conference helped to turn all this good work into a new movement?
The abundance of resources gives one hope that something is moving. Many of the groups and foundations involved in local and sustainable projects were represented. You can visit the New Economy Institute to learn about them.
Perhaps more telling were the two evening presentations. On the first evening, Bill McKibben spoke about his work with 350.org. He told the inspiring story of gathering people from around the world to stand up for a viable planet for future generations. He also told the story of organizing people to stand against the destruction by the oil companies and especially the Key Stone pipe line. McKibben’s message may be new, but he actually belongs to a long line of prophets, who come forward to protect us and to move us to protect others.
The second evening was quite different. Bob Massie, the new “President and CEO of the New Economics Institute” (as he is listed in the program) introduced us to an evening of “concert and conversation” with Peter Buffett. People may have different opinions of Buffett’s musical talents, but it would be difficult to disagree with the view that the evening was a glorification of Warren Buffett and his family, including Peter.
Like the Buffetts, I grew up in Nebraska, and I assume the Buffett family is a fine family, like many other mid-western families. The Buffetts, however, belong to the old economy; the economy of “make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can,” as the Methodist John Wesley said. Warrant Buffett made all he could, of course, by playing the stock market, which treats money as a commodity.
So, in spite of the abundance of new resources and the good work of many individuals who attended the conference, I left feeling that this conference didn’t really show an understanding of the gap between the old and the new economy, nor of the struggle that will be involved in moving from one to the other.
Why not? I can only guess. My guess is that it’s about funding. Many new economy projects depend on funding from foundations or even corporations. They want to leave a system that has produced the funding they seek. Behind this behavior lies the assumption, I believe, that governments, on various levels, are no longer interested in the common good. Or maybe the difference between private and public goods, between the civic and the commercial, has been lost. If we want to build a new economy, my guess is that we will need to find it.