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The Economics of Peace Conference: A ‘Stimulus Package’ for the New Economy (Part I)

By John Bloom

Economics of PeaceFive days of intensive presentations, workshops, and conversations focused on the elements of an economy for the 21st century were at the heart of The Economics of Peace Conference held in Sonoma, California, October 18-23, 2009. The conference was co-convened by RSF Social Finance and Praxis Peace Institute.

World-renowned speakers such as James Galbraith and Vandana Shiva were keynotes at the conference. Both of them explained the current state of economic crisis from the point of view of systemic inequity, and made recommendations for how we can solve our economic problems by taking a long-term view of what is needed to restore the environment, have a more just, non-violent economy, and stem the disasters of climate change.

The concepts and practices of local living economies were another central theme throughout the conference, evidenced primarily by the innovative idea of siting the conference in the local living economy of Sonoma. Conference attendees made use of local restaurants, hotels and guest stays with local residents. Plenaries and workshops were held in the reconditioned Sebastiani Theater, the Sonoma Community Center, and other spaces connected with local businesses. Local musicians and artists performed at each of the events.

The Sunday night opening ceremony included the Mayor of Sonoma reading a formal City Council Proclamation recognizing the importance of the conference, followed by a brief presentation from Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (who represents Sonoma). Don Shaffer, President and CEO of RSF, spoke briefly about the importance of transforming the way the world works with money toward an economics of peace. Shaffer was followed by A.T. Ariyaratne, founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka. Dr. Ariyaratne outlined the values of Buddhist economics, the eight-fold path with a focus on right livelihood. He spoke particularly about the important distinction between full employment and full engagement in economic life in the Sarvodaya villages.

Jacob Needleman and Sam Keen, two noted philosophers and authors, began the Monday sessions, with a deep dive into the psyche, mythology, archetypes and consciousness of money and economic activity from the view of the inner human being. In the evening, David Korten gave a fiery presentation outlining the agenda for a new economy based upon overcoming the ills of the current one. Korten spoke about the value of re-localizing economies and exposing the abuses of Wall Street and large corporations.

Tuesday morning, Judy Wicks, the founder of White Dog Café in Philadelphia, spoke about “Creating a Non-Violent World through Local Living Economies.” She discussed her decision to collaborate with other local restaurants to support local farmers, pay living wages to staff, and remain sustainable. Out of this decision, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) was formed. Wicks was followed by Stephanie Rearick, who spoke on “Real World Caring Economics: TimeBanking and Social Justice”. Rearick is the leader of the Dane County (WI) TimeBank, the most successful TimeBank in the US. She explained how time could be used as a currency to support exchange activities that would not normally be funded by federal currency.

Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt, then presented ample evidence of why the issuance of debt as money by banks has caused such enormous economic hardship. Using the model of the successful Bank of North Dakota, a state-owned bank, she proposed that it would be possible to do the same in California and thus return ownership of the bank to the people that it serves.

The focus on Wednesday was the practice of worker-owned cooperative businesses. Two leaders from the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain, Mikel Lezamiz and Fred Freundlich, spoke at length about the founding and evolution of Mondragon, which has developed into the largest worker-owned co-op in the world (with over 34,000 workers). Their activities include everything from industrial manufacturing, to agriculture, to their own bank and insurance companies, to mention just a few. There were also several Northern California worker-owned businesses on hand to discuss methods of running cooperatives: Alvarado Street Bakery, Arizmendi Bakery, and Rainbow Grocery.

Thursday morning started with speaker Tom Greco, author of The End of Money and the Future of Civilization. Greco made a passionate plea for us to take back the credit commons from the banks by creating our own mutual credit clearing mechanisms. This is a tried and true model that has been in use by businesses through barter for many years. He suggests that it could have much broader applications for how we conduct economic activity. Greco was followed by noted environmental attorney Andrew Kimbrell. Kimbrell spoke on “Salmon Economics”. He described the entire life cycle of the salmon and explained how it could serve as a model for how we could think about economic cycles as meeting everyone’s needs rather than just those of the few. He also articulated what the salmon have to tell us about the symbiotic relationship between local and global economies.

Friday closed with some reflections on the conference, via the humor of Swami Beyondananda, followed by an exploration of next steps. It was also announced that videos of the plenaries will be posted within the next couple weeks on the conference website: www.economicsofpeace.net. There will also be footage of many of the workshops and panel discussions available soon. We will also report on some of them in future posts.

The five-day event marked a watershed in economic thinking. By bringing together leaders and practitioners in transformative economic practices, new collaborations and projects were already developing before the end of the conference. As one participant said, “It is amazing when you bring 200 people together for five days to talk about money. When else has that ever happened?”

John Bloom is the Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.  If you enjoyed this post, look for John’s recently published book, The Genius of Money, now available from steinerbooks.org.

**Watch for Part II of this blog post in the coming days, where John will reflect on some of the workshops and panel discussions from The Economics of Peace conference.

Five days of intensive presentations, workshops, and conversations focused on the elements of an economy for the 21st Century were at the heart of The Economics of Peace Conference held in Sonoma, California, October 18-23, 2009…

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