Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A new Vision for the Future

On the tiny Hebridean Isle of Eigg everything from the islanders' homes to their jobs to their electricity supply depended on the whims of the wealthy businessman who owned it. Sick of putting up with crumbling buildings while he took rich friends for picnics and jaunts in his Rolls Royce, they launched what today would be called a crowd-funder, and eventually raised enough money to buy him out. In 1997, the inhabitants of the tiny Hebridean Isle of Eigg finally succeeded in taking collective control of their island.

Today, Eigg is thriving. A community housing association has refurbished the islanders' homes and made rents more affordable. The island is 95 percent powered by community-owned renewables, giving islanders 24-hour electricity for the first time. The landscape, previously scarred by damaging spruce tree plantations, has been restored. There is even a community-owned broadband network. Decisions about the island's future are made democratically by the trust that owns it on behalf of all who live there.

The story of Eigg gives hope, not just because it shows that change is possible - but because it has deep truths to teach us about what is wrong with our economy and how we can put it right. The power of the global 1 percent is, first and foremost, the power of the landlord.

Today's economic elite do not generally earn their wealth by producing useful things: They are gatekeepers who extract wealth from others by controlling the resources they rely on, just as landlords extract rent by controlling land and property. This means that, like the islanders of Eigg, we can address many of the crises we face by taking control of these assets together for the common good and provide us with free access to the necessities of life. But it also give us something deeper: a sense of greater control over our lives, the ability to participate in decisions that affect us,  a new vision of economic citizenship. This matters in a world where feelings of alienation and disempowerment are fuelling the rise of a racist far right.  It is about belonging to the community and not the country of your birth. Rather than seeking to regain control by building walls and slamming shut borders, we must build new forms of global solidarity.

Taking collective control of our economy also means we can reorient it towards the things we actually care about: lives and livelihoods, not just GDP and profits. The pandemic has thrown these issues into stark relief. We can now see who the real "essential workers" are: nurses, bin-men and shop assistants, not hedge fund managers and advertising executives. In countries where social safety nets have been so badly vandalised that sick people cannot afford to stay at home, we are discovering that protecting everyone benefits us all. Our minds are being focused on the relationships that matter: the friends and family we are separated from, and the kindness of neighbours who are helping each other through.

The ecological emergency means that we simply cannot continue to rely on an ever-expanding economy to give us all a good life. Instead, by finding new ways to provide for our needs collectively, we can reduce our dependence on this extractive and destructive money-circulation machine. We need a vision for a better future as a light to guide us out of these dark days and build something better in its wake.

Adapted from this article

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