This week we will be taking a look at alternative ways to organize economic activity. This involves both rethinking who holds decision-making power when it comes to financial decisions as well as reimagining what counts as money.

First, we ask that you read The Parecon Proposal” by Michael Albert, which is a chapter in the book Beyond Capitalism: Building Democratic Alternatives for Today and the Future, edited by Jeff Shantz and Jose Macdonald. “Parecon” is shorthand for “participatory economics,” a decentralized economic planning model involving the common ownership of the means of production and shared decision-making power. In this article, Albert discusses some of the main values of parecon (solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management) and describes the social institutions through which parecon might be practiced today. Note: The attached PDF also contains chapter 5 “An Economy for the Common Good with Social Currencies,” which is great, but not part of our core readings for this week, so you may read it or ignore it as time permits.

Second, we ask that you read The Future has Arrived But Isn’t Distributed Evenly . . . Yet,” a chapter in Rethinking Money by Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne. This chapter introduces us to a number of practical alternative currencies currently in circulation in various communities around the globe. Lietaer and Dunne provide examples of cooperative, time-backed, and regional currencies while discussing the shift in values and economic relationships that occur under alternative models of exchange.

Finally, if you have time, we encourage you to search for a contemporary example of a functioning alternative currency. Mareesa found that Bernard Lietaer (one of the authors of Rethinking Money) offers alternative currency proposals on his personal website and I’ve been fascinated by Ithaca’s local currency, Ithaca HOURS, for quite a while now. There are thousands of alternative currencies and alternative economic arrangements situated all over the world. Take a peek and see what you can discover.

Discussion Questions

  • How can we ensure that the alternative currencies we introduce are designed to promote social justice? What forms of valuation must be used to produce a truly win-win economic relationship? (counter-example: frequent flyer programs becoming a form of “company scrip.” Positive example: offering time-backed currency to youths on probation who work with homeless people to create resumes).
  • How could we implement alternative currencies and/or participatory economics at Lehigh? In Bethlehem? In the Lehigh Valley? Are you aware of any such initiatives in the local community? (i.e. LVHN Community Exchange TimeBank).
  • Which of Albert’s values and institutions are most convincing to you? Are there some that you find fault with or imagine in other ways? Do you agree with Albert’s definition of equity and valuation? Should workers be remunerated in relation to effort and sacrifice? Is it possible to arrange economic relations in this way, without particular attention to output? Are there aspects of working that Albert overlooks and devalues himself?
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