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‘Eco-non-money’ growing within the economy

A grab-bag of ideas could be symptomatic of a wider groundswell of support for an economic system that values people and the environment. I’ve already blogged (e.g. 3 May 2011) about the growing disillusion with unethical practices in the financial sector – hilariously, a report released a year or more ago by the New Economics Foundation called “A bit rich: Calculating the real value to society of different professions” found that for every £1 they are paid, low-paid hospital cleaners generate over £10 in social value. By contrast, by promoting tax avoidance, very highly-paid tax accountants destroy £47 of value for every pound in value they generate. The report is very thought-provoking and impressively well-referenced.

A more recent radio item on the moneyless economy on 7 August noted that we assume goods and services must be valued in monetary terms, but highlighted a growing movement internationally that’s “questioning whether there aren’t more interesting and satisfying ways of exchanging goods and services”. People interviewed spoke about the Freecycle Network™, which is made up of 5,000-odd groups with over 8.5 million members around the world. This “grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement” enables people to get and give stuff for free in their own towns in order to re-use good things and keep them out of landfills. Locally in New Zealand and globally there are any number of “green dollar” movements such as the Wairarapa Green Dollar Exchange and the Bay of Islands Community Exchange (BOICE), that facilitates the exchange of local goods and services among Bay of Islands communities using a complementary mutual credit currency, the BOIDOL (BOI$). The Bank of Real Solutions has grassroots solutions on topics as diverse as community gardens, cycling, food, health, reuse, recycling, conservation, education, elders, gardening, local currencies, pest control, sustainability training, tree planting, water weed control, wetland restoration and youth engagement.

Businesses are coming on board, with examples such as the Local Living Economy movement that aims to ensure that economic power resides locally to the greatest extent possible, sustaining vibrant, livable communities and healthy ecosystems in the process.

Whole nations may even be taking control of their economy, like Iceland, where ordinary citizens revolted against their failed banking system and even co-operatively redrafted their constitution!

Such moves are sometimes called “the alternative economy”, which one group defines as “an economic structure that is separate from, and operates largely independently of, the traditional economy.  It will have its own currency and means of conducting commerce, with the goal of creating a high level of self-sufficiency, as well as ample employment opportunities and a high level of material and spiritual well being for participants, while embracing sustainability principles.”

It is fascinating to see these and many more related movements springing up to meet the ongoing academic debate on ecological economics, which provides the theory around environmental and social wellbeing. Let’s see how soon this theory and practice can come together to heal our divided societies and wounded ecosystems