Economic Democracy

We took part in a two day conference on the topics of local, sustainable, innovative economy at the University in Covilha – organised by our dear and inspiring friends from the Ananda movement.

We listened to a such a range of speakers – practitioners, professors, activists, members of huge cooperatives/small cooperatives, public and private business, new models for cooperating, where the environment and social care were at the center – ……all very inspiring and lots of food for thought.

Several of us from the BioEco association went along to take part and offer our ideas and to learn what we could from other places. And that was one of the clear benefits of the gathering – to bring together many of us who are working away on little projects into one public space to imagine a future to work towards.

The action element on the second day divided us up into 3 groups to design a plan for alternative finances, developing cooperatives and encouraging more participation. Marcia went to the group focusing on the potential of setting up a co-op – and I went to the developing participation folks. More of the outcome from this in further posts!!

One of the examples given was the pilot programme in Fundao – part of the Agri-urban movement, where a primary school in our district is including organic, locally sourced produce in its school meals!

Even the more theoretical panels were super interesting – like that from Andre Barata also from UBI. When we use the word ‘strategic’ in relation to economics or life, he says, we exclude the logic of feelings from our understanding of the benefits of cooperation. In the work context care for the other must be essential, not just a model of efficiency. In his development of an economic philosophy he critiques the growth ideal – arguing that balance is missing and political action is limited. He proposes a ‘degrowth economy‘.  A ‘monoculture of time’ was the expression he used to depict our lost relation with time – living ever in the now, but with superficial, artificial consequences. Restoring our actions in time and space is best served with our mutual cooperation and collaboration he argued.

Roar Bjonnes was broadcast on the screen via skype. His theoretical approach was an explanation of the PROUT model. This interesting model is well developed and radical! The vision of cooperative economy and coordinated cooperation has the common goal of transforming the current capitalist ideals. The new economic policies that were proposed included a three tiered economy where small businesses and cooperatives are the norm. The cooperatives he gave examples of were successful in terms of return and had the balanced view that Andre had referred to previously. In Europe alone Roar shared that between 4-7million people are employed in cooperatives. Caring about working conditions, the environment and the long term personal and social development of people and place was also a strand of the PROUT model. Again another really interesting presentation.

Ana L Santos’ presentation was compelling and uplifting. She moved between different disciplines, from neuroscience, the philosophy of Kant and Spinoza, to social and evolutional psychology in order to address her three questions, namely: Why do we enter into competition in the first place? What are the advantages of cooperation? What are the conditions required for a new vision of society where cooperation is central? She explained that as a species on a personal and social level ‘competition is killing us’. When we care about the well being of others, our own well-being is effected in a positive sense. Creating social conditions where cooperation is the norm and not the exception is the vision she was proposing.

The conference was really inspiring and we were honoured to be part of it! The current examples given were extremely helpful to lay out a vision of what is possible if we want to transform the current economic and social practices into something more human and practical for the times we live and the future we want to inhabit.

Well done team from Ananda Kalayni, Master Unit and all those who helped to organise.