Remaking Our Economy – Our Way

I never thought I’d hear it on mainstream public radio: “The crashing economy can actually be a good thing.  The existing one doesn’t represent our values.  In creating a new economy, we have the chance to create one based on our collective values.”
[Paraphrased from economist-author interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” hosted by Terry Gross, November 2008]

I’ve been waiting for this time for years.  Economists the world over have been saying, for years, that we were living in an economic bubble of illusion which had to crash.  And now it has.

Before we all panic, let’s think about what that means.  Are we going to wait for the powers that be, who created this mess, to come up with a plan?  Or shall we remember that economies are all about trust, and then take responsibility ourselves?

So, who do we most trust?  Invisible, unreachable people in DC?  Or our neighbors, church members, family members, best friends, friends of friends, club members, parents of our children’s friends?  You get the idea.  The latter, obviously.

Economy is all about give and take.  What do you need?  What do I need?  What can we exchange with one another?  And what are our resources – what do we have – in our community?

I’d rather buy locally-made furniture any day, rather than something trucked in from a shop a thousand miles away (or more), where workers are having far less fun than my neighbor working in his garage.  That way my money not only stays local, one-hundred percent, but supports fun, creativity, uniqueness, love and satisfaction, rather than sameness, punch clocks, boredom, corporate profits, repetitive work, and more cheap goods destined for the landfill.

Our community could support an entire cottage industry for people learning carpentry skills, say, in a collaboration between furniture stores and independent woodworkers. We could repair and recycle old furniture, keep it out of the landfill, provide skills to people who need new ones, and provide our community with most – if not all – of the furniture it needs, and in high fashion.  Not a grim Depression-era picture, but most certainly an improvement over what we’ve had for quite some time in Western culture.

More examples:  How many people love to bake?  Let’s have more bakeries!  How many love to make tortillas?  Why in the world ship them from wherever they do?  Let’s make them all here!  An ideal community, I’ve always thought, would have a bakery and a tortilleria on every block.

How many love to garden?  Let’s get at it!  And let’s teach one another all we know, and grow food on every bit of spare land.  It could be fun, and beautiful, creating new bonds between people, besides providing healthy food.

How many carpenters would like to help people make their homes more energy efficient?  We could design custom improvements for a series of homes in a teaching environment, then launch a community-wide effort to make every single home here as energy-efficient as possible, some becoming entirely energy-free (free from outside/pay-for energy).

Who likes to brew beer?  Or would like to learn?  I’d love to drink local beer.

I recently heard a public service announcement about this economic collapse triggering depression, anger, and drinking, resulting in domestic violence – not an uncommon pattern when people feel trapped and frustrated.  But if everyone is given a chance to do work he or she loves, in our new, custom-created, truly “free market” economy, a lot fewer people will collapse like that.

Doing work one loves gives dignity and hope, so we should expect people (including ourselves) to step into new behaviors, and enjoy life – and beer – in a different way.  It was Ben Franklin who’s reputed to have said, “Beer is proof God loves us,” so let’s support our local brewmeisters with their gifts of turning grain (and maybe even the sugary, local mesquite pods) into celebratory drinks!

Who likes to sew?  Let’s honor ourselves with wardrobes of custom-made items – artwork for the body!  And recycle those pieces that have lost their appeal or were never designed well in the first place.  Admit it!  Don’t we have “issues” with our clothing?  (Maybe men don’t, but I know women do.)  Rarely sufficient pockets, waistbands too binding, wrong fabrics, and more.  We could create an industry for recycling or re-fabricating all those items no longer loved into something that has value again.

We could give “refabrication” a new meaning!  I like that name – and the concept for a new women’ cooperative!

I have lots of good items crowding my closet that I don’t wear, but which could have value if they were remade.  If these items (and those belonging to everyone reading this) could be remade into items more functional, we’d all need a lot fewer things.  There would probably be excess from many women’s closets, so that no one would go without.

And every day, the seamstresses, tailors, and fabric artists in our community would spend their days creating something entirely unique, either by request or by their own design.  Our community would then enjoy creative jobs, more comfortable clothes, more art, and more falling in love with the simple things in life.

We could all be doing the work of our dreams.  We only have to do it.  What excites me is that no one needs to oversee this reconstruction of our economy.  No bureaucracy is required.

We only have to change our way of seeing the world, and continue changing our way of seeing, refining our ideas, expanding them, stepping beyond what we’ve done before, and thereby become the artists and creators of our world.

“…The chance to re-create the economy according to our own values.”  Quite the moment in history into which we’ve been born, eh?

Jean Eisenhower is a local author,  fabric artist, solar designer, and devotee of fresh corn tortillas hot off the stove.  She was thrilled when Silver City got its first tortilleria.

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