Category Archives: Rethinking the Economy

‘Slums for Tourists’ – Modern class inequality in India

The Advocacy Project

ARRIVING AT DEHLI airport late at night should be rather convenient, since you can avoid most of the desperate shouting and the sweaty unsynchronised crowds. At least that’s what I thought. After the usual control points I quickly retrieved my luggage, changed some money and – half asleep – headed to the exit. But my glasses were far too deep in my handbag and the sliding doors were moving too quickly for me to be able to distinguish the nervous shapes patiently waiting behind it on time. Gradually the noises came to match hundreds of faces surrounding the gates holding signs, one larger than the other, shouting ‘welcome’ and hasty offers for hotel rooms and cab fares to the city centre. 1200 rupees for a ride quickly became 600 and in a few minutes I was on my way to Connaught Place, the city’s main economic hub.

Once there, the crowd of people in front of the airport seemed ridiculously small. I have to admit that choosing one of Delhi’s most popular tourist neighbourhoods was not the smartest thing to do. Just imagine a bunch of twisted streets and improvised passages invaded by persistent merchants, intense smells and – most unforgettably – car horns; I assure you that in a city with one of the highest road densities on earth, car horns can most certainly drive you mad. Between spicy colours and investigative looks, my first day in Delhi abruptly awakened my senses.

But not always in a good way. Finding yourself in front of such a disproportionate presence of waste definitely makes you appreciate the existence of garbage collectors. Here, it seems mostly the cows and monkeys who take care of trash. Walking in the heat for half an hour with the sole purpose of finding a garbage bin is something I remember doing quite often, only to discover upon finding one that it had been overflowing for a week.

I later found out that in Delhi alone there are 9,200 tonnes of garbage being produced every day while just 15 per cent of the city has a door to door trash pick-up system. People are also bitterly opposed to new landfills coming up in their neighbourhood as they have seen that the authorities have turned the past ones into massive, polluting heaps resulting in highly contaminated soil and air. Although it’s a situation I was expecting to encounter when arriving in Delhi – it is considered the most polluted city in the world – I couldn’t help being very surprised by how carelessly people seemed to throw their trash on the streets. Once I even tried to argue about it when a shopkeeper shoved my empty water bottle in a bush. His only response was an apologetic smile. After insisting for about two or three minutes I gave up. After all, how can words really change such deeply carved mentalities? And what can mentality change in the first place, if the policies required aren’t there?

Blaming the poor
Committed to its mission to transform Delhi into a modern global capital, the government has initiated several programs to

By Myrto Vogtiazi

By Myrto Vogtiazi

improve its environmental quality. Despite attempts to turn trash into electricity and to introduce biomining, the government has often been accused of using pollution as an excuse to implement violent privatisations and unconstitutional land grabs. One of its most criticised measures are the large-scale demolitions of jhuggis (slum houses) and the eviction of thousands of families every year. Considered as encroachers, the 32 million slum residents have been accused of “polluting” the Yamuna river through the discharge of untreated sewage.
Yet, recently published studies reveal that only a tiny fraction of the 3,600 million litres waste-water generated in Delhi each day derives from those living on Yamuna’s banks. It is the 19 sewage drains that come from the posh residential areas and industries that actually pollute the river. According to the studies, one slum dweller often receives only 16 litres per day in comparison with 450 litres received per person in wealthier areas. The poor don’t pollute to the degree claimed, simply because they don’t have the resources to do so.
“The government is presenting incorrect facts in the courts and the poor don’t have the money to approach them and present their side of the story. The fees of the lawyers and judges run in lakhs. How can we pay this?”, a slum dweller told reporters in 2011, after his house had been demolished without any notice or court orders for eviction. “My husband died on the 20th, the day of the eviction. In the morning he asked me to make him a cup of tea. When I gave him the tea, he said we should get the packing done because the bulldozers and police were on the way. As we were putting on things together he said he wanted some water. I got it and in just that moment he passed away. The police put his body on the road and ordered for our home to be demolished”, another woman told the reporters.

These evictions have been presented as a “voluntary relocation”, with people shifting to plots they got elsewhere. But in reality only a small percentage of the residents receive alternative plots. The ‘lucky’ ones who get to move to relocation sites are squeezed in spaces of 16 square metres and often left without electricity, water or toilets. What’s more, the sites are so far away from people’s workplaces – mostly as rickshaw pullers, waste-pickers, hawkers, sweepers, domestic workers, drivers or construction workers – that they can’t afford the bus fare and are forced to quit. Resistance to the evictions are usually punished with beatings or even the use of tear gas.

The absence of planned housing for the city’s poor should not be regarded as coincidental. The fact that inaccurate perspectives of pollution have class consequences has already been proven several times. Thousands of small industrial units have been shut down on the grounds of pollution since the late 1980s, when India was shoved into neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism came with a balance of payment crisis that India underwent in 1990-1991. The country managed to prevent payment default by borrowing from the IMF, the World Bank and bilateral donors. However, the loans came with conditions: India had to implement structural adjustments and move away from a state-led development, under the rhetoric of prescription and post-disaster therapy – “shock doctrine” as Naomi Klein calls it. Failure to comply meant that no loans would be provided in the future.

Adhering to Britain and US backed policies took more than higher gas prices. It meant the decline of capital formation in the public sector, the intervention of big business houses in the decision-making process and the re-creation of space to facilitate privatised profiteering. But neo-liberal transformation is not simply a top-down process. It has the support of people interested in non-agricultural sectors and the Indian elite, who are in a position to usurp the advantages out of international technological collaborations, profits and expansion of employment opportunities in the corporate sector. Therefore, even if the public sector continues to provide jobs to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, disadvantaged people recognised by the government and jobs in the private sector – especially the corporate sector – are monopolised by the upper caste population.

Slums for tourists
The failure of “liberalisation” to establish an egalitarian social order is no secret. The violent industrialisation and the tremendous shifts in economic power between regions, urban/rural, has caused tens of thousands of farm suicides in rural population since the mid ‘90s. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 199,132 farmers have killed themselves since 1997, a figure that remains disputed; some say that the real number is much higher. As the BBC reports, since 2006 the government spends less than 0.2 per cent of GDP on agriculture leading to huge migratory waves towards Delhi, which is why the number of jhuggi dwellers has grown so sharply. Sandwiched between blue-glass fronted offices and spanking new malls, jhuggis are accused of disfiguring the city as well as spreading crime and disease. Instead of improving their abysmal living conditions, they are violently wiped from the city’s urban planning, unfit to qualify for the vision of “shining metropolises”.

While roaming around Delhi on my fourth day, I found myself in front of one such slum. I was surprised to see a group of tourists following some improvised passages and carefully listening to the tour guide in front. When I approached them and asked what they were doing there, they told me that it was an organised tour priced at 200 rupees a ticket. “It is meant to sensitise and create awareness”, the tour guide told me. “I have been through this myself so I know what happens here”. I didn’t know what to say. I watched them walk away as their cameras bumped on their chests, ready to be used as soon as the catchy image of a slum kid would show up.

By Myrto Vogiatzi

Picture credit: The Advocacy Project

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Calls for change after the crisis

change

IN SEPTEMBER 2011 the Occupy movement emerged as the voice of a popularly-held complaint: our economy isn’t working for us. Re-occuring economic crises affect many people’s livelihoods as well as our planet. But what can we do about it? How would we rather shape our economies? In many European countries, people are forced to think and act in new, creative ways to overcome struggles related to austerity. They design their own currencies for example, and start their own social enterprises.

Although their initiatives are sometime born out of necessity, many people are starting to believe that we are in fact living through an economic transition. What steps are we taking towards a New Economy? Follow the Pandeia series on New Economy and find out how people from all over the globe respond to economic challenges.

Creating a better economy
Making strong statements against high income inequality, the Occupy movement managed to get a lot of media attention in many countries. Other social movements such as Via Campesina, Transition and Buen Vivir continue to work around the world to highlight undesirable consequences of the global economy. These include negative effects of mass production and consumption on the environment and high levels of power differences between employers and employees.

So how do we transform our economies in such a way that they work for us and for the planet? Virginia Palms explores how compatible values of sustainability are with traditional American values. Can we take action and change our behaviour so that we build a more resilient, low-carbon economy that benefits our well-being at the same time?

Alternative Thinking
Many are happy to take on this challenging question by putting alternative thinking into practice. Ethical consumption is a familiar example. Buying fairtrade products contributes to a more just production chain, and buying organic and consuming less meat can benefit the environment. While some are sceptical of the extent of consumer power, the fact that big supermarket chains offer more and more of these products suggests that ‘ethical demand’ does lead to ‘ethical supply’. Recycling and sharing clothes, tools and even housing are other trends that help reduce our impact on the environment while connecting with others. Some people consciously choose to live with relatively few possessions because they feel it contribute to their wellbeing.

Co-operative Working 
Others look to their workplace as a scene for change. Working in a cooperative, for example, gives employees the opportunity to vote and be part of their organization’s decision-making. People can therefore feel empowered to emphasize their own values, no matter what their position in the organization. Founding your own enterprise is another option, writes Sofie Willemsen, who explores the growing popularity of entrepreneurship among young people in the Netherlands.

Even the way you pay for things can contribute to a new economy. Using a self-made currency to buy and sell in your community can boost your local economy by keeping the ‘money’ inside the region where you live. Complementary currencies, most well-known in the shape of global currency Bitcoin, are even said to help people stay afloat in times of financial crisis, by providing them with a way to trade things when their incomes get lower.

Revolting students
Students and researchers recognize these trends and work to shape new economic ideas for the future. At the University of Manchester, for example, economics students who make up the Post-Crash Economics Society call for a change in their curriculum to make it reflect divergent academic ideas. They believe the study of economics would benefit from exploring alternatives to mainstream thinking, helping graduates be a better fit for the society they will help shape.
And thus, students rebel, write The New Yorker. Students from 19 different countries joined forces to enables a change. Daria Sukharchuk interviewed one of them.

The idea that divergent approaches should be given more space in economic thinking and practice is also promoted by leading research institutes such as the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, the New Economics Foundation and New Economics Institute. Funding for non-mainstream economic research is becoming more readily available, for example through the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Researchers come up with terms such as ‘new economics’, ‘social and solidarity economy’, ‘circular economy’, and ‘sharing economy’. All of these are attempts to frame alternative ways of consumption, production and exchange that could help shape an economy that is more socially and environmentally sustainable.

What’s next?
All these initiatives raise the question: are we moving toward a completely different economic system? Is this then a time of economic revolution which will soon lead us to say goodbye to capitalism altogether? Or is it more valuable to allow ‘for-profit’ and ‘for-people’ enterprises to exist side by side? What role can voters and policymakers play in stimulating such an economy? How can we make sure that small alternatives aren’t crushed by big business-as-usual? Find out about it in Pandeia’s new Economy series.

If you want to contribute, please contact nelegoutier@pandeia.eu

By Nadine van Dijk and Nele Goutier
Picture by Allison

Transition towns: future or failure?

Devon in the UK was world's first Transition Town. Picture by Bernard Blanc.

Devon in the UK was world’s first Transition Town. Picture by Bernard Blanc.

In 2011, Transition Town Totnes won the Ashden Green Award for its attempts to slow down climate change. “Town of the future”, wrote the Guardian, referring to the community in the UK. Is this label just; can local initiatives make a global change, or is Transition doomed to fail?

Even though Transition Initiatives are small-scale, their popularity certainly isn’t. In times of increasing concerns over the environment and decreasing faith in governments’ ability to fight it, it seems no surprise that local initiatives to counteract environmental damage are on the rise. One of the most prevalent examples can be found in the Transition Network, which consists of a wide range of community-led activities around the globe that all share one hallmark: their goal is to reduce greenhouse gasses and to prepare for the post-carbon era. Since the foundation of the first Transition Town in 2005, Totnes, no less than 476 similar initiatives were taken in all continents, as is shown by the Transition map.
What characterizes Transition Initiatives is their bottom-up organization, explains Fiona Ward, Project Manager of Transition Town Totnes, to the Guardian. “It starts with someone coming to the office or ringing us to tell us that they want to start a project. They are the ones who then actually go and recruit all their neighbors. We don’t go out and knock on people’s doors, they are the ones who do it.”

As a result of such bottom-up organization, strategies for a more sustainable lifestyle and economy differ widely. Initiatives range from the use of renewable energy sources – the Scottish Island of Eigg create 90% of its electricity through renewable resources – to the creation of local currencies as an alternative to the Sterling, such as the Bristol Pound. The aim is to increase local trade. After all, when long-distance transport of commodities is avoided, CO2-emision can be reduced. And thus, the mayor of Bristol is entirely paid in Bristol Pounds. At present, six cities in the UK have followed Bristol’s footsteps. Together, they have an estimated circulation that equals 54.2 billion Sterling, according to The Transition Network website. For a grassroots movement, the Transition movement has grown and sustained relatively well.

When enthusiasm fades
Yet it is not all roses in the Transition Garden, as is shown by a recent study by Giuseppe Feola and Richard Nunes from the University of Reading. Even though Transition Initiatives are usually presented in terms of their potential, creativity and originality, both internal and external difficulties make their effectiveness unsure. “One of the key challenges for Transition Initiatives has been around group governance. Because of the diversity of the movement there are often conflicts. You cannot think of it as having consensus all the time – there can be frictions with competing agendas”, explains Nunes. This is mostly because the Transition approach is not one-dimensional and clear-cut, but rather involves a wide scope of activities, from food production to political activities. To find an approach that the group as a whole supports is often no easy task.
Disagreements can be hard to deal with, tells Charlotte Du Cann, editor-in-chief of the Transition Free Press. “The start-up phase of initiatives is often exuberant and exciting. People are attracted to the buzz, full of hope and expectation. But at some point ideas and fancies turn out not to be the reality. Those big words fade in the light of day. You realise that you have to get on with other people. Power struggles happen and things don’t go according to plan”, she writes in her blog. As a result, drop-outs are no exception. This is especially problematic because of a lack of funding, causing the organization’s almost exclusive reliance on volunteers who are only bound to the project by their own dedication. When the participants lose their enthusiasm, trust and confidence, projects risk failure. “The sense of defeat or powerlessness can be a big struggle”, says Du Cann. Yet, this willingness to ‘fail’ is a natural part of the experimental learning process in this new kind of movement.
On top of that, there are socio-cultural factors that decrease the likelihood that a Transition Initiative survives when the initial enthusiasm fades. It is for instance hard to truly get rid of conventional ideas, explains Du Cann. “We have been educated our entire lives to think in a certain way. Changing your entire attitude – because that is what it comes down to – is very hard, because there are so many things that you take for granted without even realizing it. And even if you are aware of the cultural presumptions that you have, it takes courage to fight ideas that are generally accepted.” Individualism is another culturally achieved attitude that hinders the initiatives, adds Du Cann. “We are used to think about our own success, but that is not how collective initiatives work.”

Localism: strength or weakness?
Even when Transition Towns manage to deal with struggles of internal organization, motivation and attitude, their future survival is not self-evident. The people that get involved in Transition in the first place, are usually people of a certain age, tell Feola and Nunes. “There’s a lot of volunteer work there and older people tend to have more time on their hands.” The question is whether younger people will take over the Initiatives when the current generation retires.
Ideally, different generations should be involved simultaneously, as the study suggests, because each age group brings different advantages. Feola says: “Older people have more time – which is in fact a key factor of success – but younger generations are more accustomed to social media and therefore facilitate communication and online networking. They are possibly also more creative.” He continues: “Initiatives in diverse communities are more successful, because they have access to more resources and can build that critical mass that is necessary.”
By referring to the critical mass, Feola touches upon another issue faced by Transition Initiatives: their small-scale, local focus may open up for new ways of thinking, but it also decreases their overall influence on a global scale and thus their ability to make a change. As a result, the opinions on cooperation with governments differ. Whereas Du Cann beliefs the local focus to be a strength – because “the only way to change the status quo is by working around conventional political structures” – Feola and Nunes emphasize the potential of up-scaling through cooperation with existing institutions.

Transition of tomorrow
The viewpoints on cooperation may differ, but one thing is sure: expansion is considered necessary by the members of the Transition Network. According to the Network’s website, 76% of the initiative-takers consider problems in “attracting wider interest” as their biggest obstacle. Yet, expansion may not be easy to achieve. Feola: “There is the risk that there is a ceiling, in a sense. The base of people that participate in this type of movement and initiative is limited.” Moreover, urbanization may be an impediment, as Feola and Nunes found that urban Initiatives tend to be less successful than their rural counterparts. “That might be due to the greater dynamics of moving in and out of cities. People identify less with the place and are less motivated.” In a rapidly urbanizing world, the future success of Transition depends at least partly on the movement’s ability to make Urban Initiatives work – and there are plans afoot to do so.
With so many factors of influence or limitation, the success of Transition Initiatives is not obvious. Yet, even though Transition Initiatives frequently face struggles and failure, the topic is often avoided. “We live in a success culture. Failure is something we don’t like to talk about,” explains Du Cann. “But failure is a natural part of trying something new. It is not about having the solution ready, it is about finding one.”

By Nele Goutier and Viral Shah

Portugal’s peaceful protests

Catarina Cardoso and Isabel Baraona

Catarina Cardoso and Isabel Baraona

DISSATISFACTION CAN BE expressed in many ways, even through art. Art magazine Revista Biblia is not only a tribute to the 40-year anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, but also a protest against the current austerity measures and an investment in the future.

Tiago Gomes walks onto the stage, where he is applauded by the small audience. In his lilting Portuguese, he presents the program of the poetry evening that is just about to begin. We are in a café called Sagrada Familia, on Avenida Duque de Loulé. The avenue is broad, but the sidewalks are almost empty. A few buildings appear to be abandoned, even though we are only a few minutes from the expensive hotel area of Lisbon.
Onstage, Gomes mentions the Troika and the current economic crisis. As he speaks, an old man in the bar starts crying without tears, as infants do, which makes people laugh, in slight discomfort. Then he turns to the audience and yells: “Are you laughing at the IMF?!” His beard is long, his face is dark from the sun and he is wearing a hoodie over his hair. He sits down, listens to Gomes reading poetry for a while, before he stands up and walks back out to the streets.

Peaceful protesting
His actions are not typically Portuguese. While the Greeks draw posters depicting Angela Merkel as a Nazi, and have held aggressive and sometimes violent protests, the Portuguese are more peaceful in their protesting. It is in their nature, they will explain if you ask. Even their significant Carnation Revolution in 1974 was fought with flowers, as they like to remind you.

But that doesn’t mean that there is nobody protesting. It just takes different forms. One of their forms of protest is the magazine Revista Biblia, an art magazine first published in 1996, and last in 2011, when “there wasn’t enough money to make it anymore,” Gomes explains. He is the founder of the magazine and is therefore happy to say that they will publish a new edition this year.

To take a stand
Revista Biblia will now be published again mainly because of the efforts of two women: Isabel Baraona and Catarina Figueiredo Cardoso. They got the idea to invest their own time and money and publish one more edition of Biblia in collaboration with Gomes. Because 2014 is the 40th anniversary, the magazine will be dedicated to the Carnation Revolution of April 25.

“The idea is exactly to transmit what the revolution was. It was an important mark in Portuguese history,” Cardoso says. “It changed us and our lives. It changed the country where we lived. And it was a revolution without blood, the power withdraw, which is something absolutely amazing.”

We meet at quite a hidden café in the centre of Lisbon, in one of the narrow streets a few minutes from the harbour. Cardoso has a law degree and an MA in political science, but is now writing her PhD in materialities of literature at Coimbra University. Baraona is an artist, has a PhD in visual arts and works as a art teacher at Escola Superior de Arte e Design de Caldas da Raínha. They both work full-time and have other projects, but are investing their spare time and money to create Biblia because they felt they had to do something. “Because of the political situation, the hardships, the austerity measures and the cuts in culture the last years. It was impossible not to take a stand, says Baraona”.

Losing the conquests of the revolution
With the revolution in 1974, Portuguese citizens gained more rights. Workers rights, women’s rights and freedom of speech were improved, and there were investments in education and social support. Baraona and Cardoso see this date as especially important due to the current situation: “What we see is that the conquests of the revolution are under threat. Because the access to health care is being cut, the education is being cut. Someone from the government said that ‘the country is getting better, but the people are not,’” she adds. “I don’t understand that. We, the people, are the country, and we are not getting better ” Cardoso says.

The Troika austerity measures are mentioned daily in Portuguese news, and for many people, Germany is the face of the welfare cuts. But Baraona and Cardoso do not see the EU or the Troika as the reason for their problems. They think the blame for the bad economic and social situation is on their own government. “I think there were a lot of decisions that were not made by the Troika, not by the European community,” says Isabel Baraona. “They were just not well negotiated by our government. And you have to look at your own responsibility before pointing fingers.”

The colleagues agree that there are some serious issues in the EU at the moment, such as the divide between the Northern and Southern countries and the gap between rich and poor. “Personally, I love Europe. I love being European, I love European history, the European Union and so on,” says Cardoso. “So for me, it’s a good thing to be a part of Europe in itself. But of course all institutions have good and bad sides and moments. And this moment is not a good one.”

Castrating a generation
When looking at Portugal and its government, led by prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho from the Partido Social Democrata (PSD), there are many things to criticise in their opinion. Baraona emphasises that the first thing a country will cut in a crisis is the budget for culture, which has already happened in Portugal. There no longer is a Portuguese Ministry for Culture. And because Portugal does not have a strong tradition for private support of art, the cuts in public funding are serious, she says.

“I am talking about culture, but I could also talk about science. Because things are not that settled yet. So if you cut in these areas, you are actually castrating a whole generation.” Baraona does not believe that artists and cultural life should depend completely on the state, but she thinks there should be a minimum support. “As a teacher I have seen that we had 10 % more students quitting school the two last semesters,” she says. ”And it’s a disaster, because they cut the scholarships. And if the parents are unemployed, then they cannot pay the annual fee.”

For them, the Revista Biblia can be a means of protesting, a way to show that you disagree with the decisions being taken. “Even making a project like this is a political gesture in itself, in such a conventional country as ours, where the arts market is so small. To take that responsibility in your hands, thats already a political gesture for me,” says Baraona. “Its really an act of resistance, because our salaries are being cut, but we still try to do things that can be meaningful and that can add value and resistance to the country.”

“People should wake up”
Back in Sagrada Familia, the programme continues peacefully after the crying man has left. Poems are read and songs are played by a one-man-band. Tiago Gomes says the latest years have been hard for people and also for artists and cultural life. State subsidies have been cut and people have less money to spend. He hopes that he can change something with Revista Biblia, but he is sceptical. “After what I have seen, I dont know if anything can change. We have been cheated. By the Troika, the foreign and national politicians. People have been cheated. They are taking money from salaries and pensions.”

By Tatiana Tilly

The USA and the power of the people

Occupy Wallstreet = photo by Aaron Bauer

Occupy Wallstreet = photo by Aaron Bauer

America, like much of the world, has been through a rough few years. The rise of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements reveal a cry for radical change of the economic and political system. But how can New Economy – which revolves around economic and environmental sustainability rather than profit making – be established in a society that traditionally values self-madement, economic prosperity and independency?

The Tea Party and the Occupy movement, while very different in many ways, both stem from the same source: dissatisfaction with the economy and the larger social and political structures and values. And when topics of broad public concern are brought up the movements refer to the same set of values. Both belief in democracy, freedom, equality, opportunity, independence, and self-sufficiency.

How does adherence to such values affect the New Economy? A significant aspect of the New Economy is the acknowledgement of interdependence: our actions affect others, and we need others to survive and thrive. This idea contradicts the American value of independence. It is especially scary to imagine ourselves as interdependent when it appears that so much of humanity may not be trustworthy, and may in fact be harming us. When it appears that things like democracy, opportunity, and equality are waning within society, that provides more reason to escape.

The Myth of the American Dream

With so much coverage on the crisis, one may wonder where origins of the economic malaise lies. Firstly, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 ensued from the burst of the U.S. housing bubble in 2006 and the resulting subprime mortgage crisis of 2007. This demonstrated a larger problem of an out-of-control Wall Street and an unresponsive government.

The “too big to fail” industries gained bank and auto industry bailouts,  yet small businesses failed to see such aid. When

Pot luck in Cadilac, Michigan, one of America's 150 Transition Towns where people strive to create economical and environmental sustainability

Pot luck in Cadilac, Michigan, one of America’s 150 Transition Towns where people strive to create economical and environmental sustainability

combined with record-breaking banker and CEO bonuses, it paints a picture of a fundamentally unfair system with the average American helpless and unable to influence.

The American Dream mythology is much harder to sustain given the growing reality for increasing numbers of the population. The U.S. has one of the highest inequalities of wealth distribution of the developed nations, particularly when measuring income after taxes and benefits and looking at actual wealth and savings. While the U.S. Great Recession was declared over in 2009, the majority of GDP growth has gone to the top 1% (and a large portion of that to the top 0.01%). The current generation of young adults is the first American generation, according to vast array of studies, that will have less income, less wealth, and a shorter life span than their parents.

Do-it-yourself attitude
This raises another American value that makes this inequality so hard to acknowledge: Americans have high faith in capitalism and a free-acting market as an entity in its own right. They also have a strong work ethic stemming from the Protestant heritage that condemns laziness and can measure a person’s worth by their wealth. Such valuation is dependent upon a system where hard work appears to be rewarded. The economic crisis may then help raise questions about the current economic order and people need to find an alternative way to demonstrate their value.

So where do Americans turn to find greater security and self-worth? The rising trend of homesteading over the past few years demonstrates the pull of self-sufficiency, frugalness, a return to the land, control over resources and the production process, and environmentalism, all rolled into one.

There are countless blogs covering individual attempts to take back of piece of the production process of food and other goods. From urban rooftop gardens to rural farms, individuals are creating a direct role in the local production of food. Moreover, do-it-yourself blogs help to constitute the home: make your own clothes and furniture, create your own make-up and toiletries, hack your own home to add in utilities and gadgets, etc. The bloggers are often young mothers, focused on their ability to provide care for their family. These are seedlings of New Economic concerns regarding investing in relationships, but rarely go to the broader neighborhood or community level, whose support is needed in order to provide a high level of care and security.

All of these activities allow for personal control in an uncertain world. They are also hailed as a way to be thrifty in tough economic times, and a way to be independent from others. These efforts satisfy the growing concern towards quality of food, which ranges from distrust over GMOs, big agribusiness, and low levels of regulation around food supply in comparison with other developed nations. It also offers a new way to value oneself, based upon how “pure” one is, measured in terms of limited environmental impact, consuming organics, and general resourcefulness.

When fear becomes a guide

When the response goes towards the fear-end of the spectrum, we wind up with lifestyles like survivalism. This disengagement from society stems from a belief that the government and economy will collapse, disaster will occur, and we will be left to fend for ourselves. TV shows like Doomsday Preppers sensationalize the trend that can be found across the internet, in blogs and online suppliers. The completeness of self-sufficiency, with off-the-grid living and long-term food supplies, romanticizes an American prairie frontier past way of life. The rhetoric hits common themes within the same breath, from the natural state of man, evilness of government handouts, concern over medication and technology dependence, and patriotism. Essentially, the argument comes down to, ‘when the system fails, you will be on your own, and to survive on your own is patriotic.’

New optimism
While the outrage continues at many individual levels, there is a lack of certainty at what the popular action was able to obtain. Core members of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are still persevering, but the mass movement has essentially dissipated.

However, one can find American efforts that are attempting to work together to engage in new community economic models. On a community and business level, “agrihoods,” housing developments centered around a working farm, are cropping up. The U.S. has 150 Transition Towns, which make efforts to foster sustainable communities through community practices geared towards water and energy conservation and fostering sharing economies. Time Banking, where members provide and receive hours of help or service, has a membership of 181 communities, the overwhelming majority of which are in the U.S. Local alternative currencies, designed to keep money within the local economy, appear in many states.

How do we explain New Economy success that exists in the U.S.?
With low levels of government welfare and eroding community engagement, it is understandable that people turn to family units to provide care. The New Economy efforts must work to build these broader social networks within and between communities. Efforts such as time banks claim they build on the understanding that people naturally like to feel valued and to help others. They believe the key to success is a positive vision of the future, and a sense of empowerment to affect that change.

But they have a lot to overcome—even their members can feel guilt in not paying cash for a service. The stigma of welfare is very strong in the U.S., and is high in personal blame. Furthermore, this unease with alternative currency shows a strong devaluation in anything that is not assigned a dollar price. A strong mental shift is needed. Because the rhetoric of self-reliance is such a strong part of American vocabulary, it is important to have positive examples of broader community efforts from around the world to demonstrate the power that communities can possess to take an active role in influencing the shape of their world. Perhaps this can be a new direction for America to take to regain its optimism and confidence.

By Virginia Palm

Students worldwide in fight for sustainability

money

When mentioning the worldwide economic crisis, the crash of Wall street or the housing bubble spring to mind. However, some people believe that economic problems have much deeper roots: it all starts with teaching economy.

“It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in” –  reads the opening paragraph of Rethinking Economy manifesto. Rethinking Economics is a student movement established at the beginning of this year, who stand for a change in economic curricula.

What makes it different from many other student movements is it’s international focus. Yuan Yang, an economics student from Britain, started a network to unify existing student societies with similar goals and realized that that the same concerns occurred in many different countries. Post-Crash Economic society already existed in Manchester, where material for provocative reposts in the Guardian and Washington Post was provided.

About six months ago, Nova Agora and Rethinking Economics Italia (REI) expanded their actions to Brazil and Italy. REI began as a radio programme on the LUISS University in Rome, where it’s founder, Nicolo Fraccaroli, hosted a series of interviews with non-mainstream economists. The initiative received a very warm welcome from students and teachers from all over Italy. Similar groups will be created in several other universities in Italy.

Rethinking Economics Italia’s home university, LUISS, went even developed a new course for economy students that will focus on alternative views on the subject ‒ a definite success in comparison to the upfront refusal that the Post-Crash Economic Society in Manchester has been facing. But Nicolo is modest about his achievement: “I was just lucky, because one of my teachers mentioned other schools of economic thought during his lectures.”

Lost paradise
Meanwhile in Brazil, a group on economics students in Mato Grosso do Sul has established Nova Agora. “When I was traveling with my friends, we came across this tiny village in the jungle. From the point of view of the economy we learned, it was not an optimistic picture: there was no growth, no industry there ‒ but still, people were happy. They worked on their own farms, and nobody was hungry, nobody was dying in the streets, or using drugs,” ‒ remembers Gustavo Bernardino, who co-founded Nova Agora.

A comparison of this ‘lost paradise’ to the country’s bustling economic capital Sao Paulo, where drug abuse and extreme poverty are undeniable, triggered Gustavo and his friends to re-think the economics they were taught  and to promote this way of thinking to their fellow students.

Real Changes
Nova Agora was founded as an organisation dedicated not so much to changing the study curricula, as to the way economy is applied to real life. Therefore, their first project is about microloan funding for poor people in rural areas.

While Nova Agora and Rethinking Economics Italia have different approaches (one more practical, the other rather theoretical) they both relate to Rethinking Economics. After all, their aim is to fundamentally change the economy. Changing the way people think about economics and the way it is applied can have a very significant impact on our everyday lives. And thus, the students fight to make a change.

By Daria Sukharchuk

Dutch “golden generation” dares to dream

Arjen Hoekstra, founder of Scherp!media

Arjen Hoekstra, founder of Scherp!media

WHILE WE ARE still in an economic recession, entrepreneurship is on the rise in the Netherlands, especially among young people. They don’t seem worried. On the contrary: they dream and dare to take risks.

The sixth floor of an office building just outside the centre of Amsterdam holds a large and nearly empty space. There’s one table and one entrepreneur. From behind his laptop Matthijs Otto puts two orange plastic disposable cups under the coffee maker . “We still need to get real cups. ”

Matthijs Otto (24) graduated with a Master’s degree in Finance and Investments last year. After an internship at Rabobank in Hong Kong, he could have easily found a job. But Matthijs did not want to work for someone. During his studies he had come up with the idea to set up a website where people, who do not know each other yet, could meet online and plan to have dinner together. Now he works long hours to turn Eattomeet.com into a success.

As a user of Eattomeet, you can organize a dinner at various locations around the world. You can organize a dinner at a restaurant of your choice, or you could join someone else’s table. At the moment, a table at restaurant ‘Boom’ in Amsterdam still has three open seats, and an international party in Barcelona could still use one more companion at their table. According to Matthijs, the website is especially suited for expats and foreign students. They can build up a network in the city in which they live. “If you eat with people, you often have meaningful conversations and really get to know them.”

Thus far, Matthijs has had to pay himself and his team with the returns he received from an investment. But he wants to earn his own money as quickly as possible, by charging a small commission to the participating restaurants. Whether this will be viable remains to be seen, but Matthijs believes in his idea. “I’ve taken a risk, but I just had to try it. Otherwise it would have haunted me for the rest of my life.”

Freedom
Marijke Synhaeve (24) never applied for a job after she completed her Masters in International Development Management. Alongside two others, she started a private research and consulting firm. “Because I live now. I want to try new things. I am not looking for a lot of security.”

Marijke spends her days in an office building where she works hard on different projects for ‘BEvraag’. The company conducts research within organizations, interviewing employees about the way things are going. Their answers reveal what the biggest problems and challenges are and are turned into a recommendations for improvement.

Marijke enjoys the challenges she encounters in her work. She can do what she loves and take the responsibility she wants, without having to ask for it. “If I would have started working for a large company at the age of 24, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.”

The Dutch Chamber of Commerce sees more and more young entrepreneurs like Matthijs.The spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce noted that the young generation is attracted to entrepreneurship particularly because it allows them a great degree of freedom. “We detect a trend, in that young people do not want to commit to a permanent job. Securing a lasting long-term contract seems to be of little interest to them.”

Maryse Brand, lecturer in Innovation Management & Strategy at the University of Groningen, also noted that entrepreneurship is becoming more popular. “You could say that in the last decade, entrepreneurship has gotten a better reputation in the Netherlands. Before that, entrepreneurs were seen mainly as money grabbers, while, nowadays, they are admired.”

Cockiness
According to Matthijs, entrepreneurship is in your blood. “You have to really be an enterpreneur, you cannot become one.” As a little boy, Matthijs was also known as ‘Matthijs Eigenwijs’, eigenwijs meaning something like cocky or pigheaded. Sometimes his cockiness gets in the way and he comes across as arrogant. However, as an entrepreneur, he is able to take advantage of this part of his personality. “It’s really a bad personality trait, but I can use my arrogance in a positive way. If you yourself aren’t sure of your idea, others will not believe you either.”

The Dutch Chamber of Commerce also comes across people who see entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment. Their experiences often show that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. “People do not want to receive benefits from the state and start their own business to get by. But that does not mean they will succeed. We see that the majority of these businesses don’t last longer than three years”, the spokesman of the Chamber of Commerce explains.

Rick and Matthijs, founders of

Rick and Matthijs, founders of Eattomeet, in their office in Amsterdam

Competing with Google
Rick Boerebach (24) works on Eattomeet.com with Matthijs, but is also involved with another company named ZEEF. ZEEF is based in the same office building in Amsterdam, and is run by a small group of entrepreneurs. Behind desks full of computer screens, a group of young men is building a search engine that aims to compete with Google. By making use of expert opinion when placing ads and presenting search results, ZEEF is trying to dig in to a particular part of the market. “If we take just one percent of the market share away from Google, we’ve made 500 million”, says Rick.

According to him, our desire for a secure income is standing in the way of societal progress. “The world is becoming a boring place. People don’t really take risks or think big.” The next step, says Rick, is space. “I want to put people on Mars, because it’s possible. But in order to do that I need about 3 to 6 billion .” That’s why Rick is hoping to start to make a lot of money soon. “I hope to have 25 million in my bank account by the age of 25.”

Marijke thinks that most young entrepreneurs work towards a dream. “When I look at other enterpreneurs, I see that it is often important for them that their work has some social value. They are idealists.” Marijke counts herself as one of them. “I want to make the world a little better.”

Golden generation
According to professor Brand, the reason for young people to think big, might be that they have seen more of the world than previous generations have: “Travel, TV and internet encourage us to dream big.” The Internet in particular, offers many opportunities for young entrepreneurship. “It’s not only easy to sell online, we also have faster access to a growing pool of information and are in contact with all the world,” says Brand .

Matthijs and his friends sometimes call themselves the “golden generation”. They’ve had a carefree childhood, been given good education, and can now enjoy the benefits of extremely fast technological development. But all of this has not made them lazy. “The crisis has taught us that it’s important to work hard for your money and not take things for granted.”

To achieve his goals, Matthijs must work hard. “It’s not just fun. Actually, it’s good only twenty or thirty percent of the time. The rest of it, you’re just working really hard.”

A calling
BEvraag is busy. Marijke has thought about expanding, but not anytime soon. A couple of months is as far as the future goes for her. The word ‘retirement’, although a much debated topic in the country, makes Marijke laugh.” Oh no, I’m not thinking about that right now.” This carefree attitude, according to Brand, is typical for the young entrepreneur. “But once they start a family and buy a home, income security becomes a necessity.” As people age, they increasingly avoid risks.

Matthijs is aware that he should take advantage of his youth. “I don’t know if I’ll still be doing this when I have a wife and children.” What he does know is that he will continue to do what he likes, because ultimately that’s what it’s all about. “This does not feel like work, it’s a calling.”

By Sofie Willemsen