Building a Resilient, Fair, and Responsible Economy

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Tompkins Weekly June 6, 2011. By Gay Nicholson.

The failures of global growth capitalism are apparent to anyone feeling uncertain about their economic future – from the Baby Boomer eyeing retirement with greatly diminished health and pension benefits, to the young graduate frustrated by the lack of opportunity, to the middle-aged couple underwater in their mortgage and trapped by rising property taxes and household debt.

As tough as we think our situation is, these pains and anxieties are modest compared to the traumas felt in other countries and parts of our nation due to the exploitative aspects of globalization. Thankfully, the antidote to this downward spiral lies in the hands of the people, in our communities. As globalization has funneled immense wealth to transnational corporations, while depleting resources and displacing people, a countering force based on the principles of sustainability, social justice, and local economies has emerged.

Localization of our economy is essential if we are to buffer ourselves from speculative bubbles and escalating food and energy prices. In a local economy, it is easier to prevent the corruption and abuse of power that comes with concentrated wealth. Connections are easier to see. Cause and effect are visible. Relationships are more accountable. Best of all, we have the capacity to strengthen our local economy by growing our already impressive reserves of social capital, natural capital, and financial capital.

Localization of the economy shifts the power from channels of accumulation for the few into channels of distribution for the many. Ithaca is very much a part of the re-localization movement taking root across the globe. We’ve been pioneers on many fronts for several decades, and now we see an even richer upwelling of creativity and empowerment underway. Our challenge is to design a local economy that works for everyone and takes advantage of the power of entrepreneurship, sharing, local supply chains, self-provisioning, and local investment.

It’s important to recognize that the economy is more than cash or the stock market or the GDP. The “eco” in economy comes from the Greek word “oikos” for household, and historically most household economies were characterized by self-provisioning, sharing, and trading. These non-cash transactions are at the heart of local self-reliance, whether done by individuals, families, or communities. There’s been a marvelous explosion of interest in local self-reliance over the past decade in our community as people have come together to teach each other skills, grow gardens, share resources, and trade just about anything. A sinking global economy is a major motivation, but participants are discovering a sturdy sense of resiliency from strengthened community ties and new abilities to provide for themselves. New social media platforms such as those provided by Share Tompkins make it easy to find each other.

Buying products and services from local businesses is fundamental to localization as it prevents leakage of dollars out of our community and into the hands of outside shareholders and corporate structures. Local First Ithaca, our local BALLE chapter, encourages the development of local supply chains to meet our needs, create jobs, and keep our money circulating in our community. Equally important is the need to invest in our own community – through our purchases, through our local banks and credit unions, and via direct green infrastructure investments.

But our responsibility doesn’t stop there. A truly sustainable and resilient economy must be based on principles of fairness and finding ways to share the wealth in a local economy so that the overall community can thrive. For example, the pipeline for green collar workforce training has to reach into diverse pockets of potential employees so that everyone in our community has a chance to participate in a local, clean economy. We also need to distribute workloads and profits such that everyone can be paid a living wage. Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit needed for innovation and risk taking is most successful when everyone has a stake in the future – making worker-owned cooperatives an exciting tool for pooling resources and talent and sharing the profits.

We’ll be visiting these topics and more at the next gathering of the Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network (SEEN) from 5:30-8:00 on June 13 at La Tourelle on Rt. 96B. Our topic is “Sharing The Wealth: Social & Economic Tools For Building Equity in a Sustainable Economy” and our panelists include Dee Gamble, Green Jobs Coordinator for Tompkins County Cooperative Extension; Linda Holzbaur, Community Organizer, Tompkins County Workers Center; and Joe Marrafino, Cooperative Organizer, Democracy at Work Network. You can get all the details at or email .

Gay Nicholson is President of Sustainable Tompkins and Treasurer for the Green Resource Hub.

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