COMMONOMICS
Growing Our Common Wealth™
by Matt Stannard on February 29th, 2016

​Worried about Trump and right-wing extremism in general? You should be. But however you choose to fight it nationally, the true answer to the fascist worldview is cooperative, sustainable economies and community solidarity.

If I were giving this essay as a sermon at a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, the accompanying children’s story at the beginning of the service would be about fighting back against bullies in a world where everyone feels afraid and insecure, and learning that standing up together not only pushes back the bullies, but eliminates bullying. What does economic justice have to do with bullying, you ask?  

Violence

We seek what bell hooks calls “the fierce willingness to repudiate domination in a holistic manner.”
 
For a year and a half I aided victims of domestic violence in the courtroom asking for injunctions against their abusers and in the “system” asking for resources to gain independence. For the last several months watching Donald Trump and his new loyalist Chris Christie, I’ve noted the spot-on similarity of verbal outbursts of both men and the behavior and abuse patterns of respondents in domestic violence injunction hearings. “Sit down and shut up.” “Are you stupid?” “Beat him up.” “Bomb the shit out of them.” Vulgar sexist jokes. Narcissistic and disproportionate self-justification. Those are words victims, in their petitions, report hearing.
 
Statistically, the incidents and impacts of domestic abuse cluster most heavily in poverty. I just read another article explaining that link, this one by Helen Nianias at Broadly, a Vice channel. There cannot be too many of these articles written or read. The thesis is that lack of access to material security like rental property worsens domestic abuse, traps victims with their abusers, and exacerbates all interpersonal violence.
 
And I submit, in all seriousness, that the way domestic violence victims interact with their abusers and our economic system tells us a lot about the real context of Donald Trump’s incipient fascism, and why economic injustice is unjust. For millions, American life and politics are an intersection of trauma, material insecurity, and dependence on abusive systems and people. So now we have public behavior from leading political figures –one who may become president— that would be dispositive in a domestic violence injunction hearing.

We Are Material 

Well, we certainly have some things to deal with now, don’t we? And unfortunately, we don’t make our history any way we please. The other night I picked up my old copy of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, an essay written in response to a certain strain of utopian socialism, but which also contains spot-on criticism of mainstream economics. Grace Lee Boggs, the revolutionary of Detroit who died last year at age 100, read Marx as she read Jesus: urging us, on multiple levels, to shed our fetishization of wealth, seeing a relationship between that fetishization and systems of brutality. My takeaway from The Poverty of Philosophy is that human relationships don’t occur between abstract political subjects, but between human beings immersed in their material conditions. This isn’t hard determinism. It’s simply a humbling reminder that matter exists, we are in it, and we are often overwhelmed by it.
 
Professional economists tend not to live in or understand that overwhelm.The divisions Marx makes in The Poverty of Philosophy between these mainstream theorists very much resembles the respective economic approaches of the 2016 Republican field, Hillary Clinton’s neoliberal centrism, and Bernie Sanders’s strong redistributivism and old labor politics. Marx writes of the fatalistic conservative economists who see poverty as “the pang which accompanies every childbirth, in nature as in industry” – essentially the economic philosophy of the Republicans, enforced through a combination of now-undead trickle-down economics and apocalyptic Christian exaltation of suffering. He writes of the humanitarians, seeking to ease the pain and conflicts of inequality by calling for concessions and cooperation on both sides—a charitable but fair description of the Clintonian, DNC-guided corporate welfare state. He writes of the philanthropic economists—“den[ying] the necessity of antagonism,” and wishing to turn us all “into bourgeoisie” with no such class conflict at all—a possibility envisioned by Sanders and numerous (but by no means all) “new economy” proponents. A large section of what is now considered left-of-center economic thought now posits that wealth can be used for good, and that we can create structures within the market economy that eliminate involuntary poverty. Almost all of these approaches assume at least a certain amount of good will (or at least cooperation) from the world’s most powerful economic interests. That such good will might be replaced by violent repression (as historically valid as that concern is) does not occur to most humanitarian or philanthropic policy advocates. They should think about it now.
 
Marx doesn’t stop there, but I will. We don’t need to be “Marxists” to beat back fascism, or build economically just institutions. Sanders’s philanthropic capitalism is not impossible. Nor, even, is Clinton’s capitalism-with-a-human-face (I’m going to ask some tough question about how to achieve sustainability and justice under it, but I’ll listen to the answers). Fighting for those visions is not dishonorable, insincere, or even foolish. Nor are those people foolish who say those fights don’t go far enough and risk too much compromise—those socialists and Greens who raise their heads in interest at the Clinton-Sanders debate, while forging ahead building what they see as a necessary, new politics and economics.
 
But in what comes from the right, we face a categorical antagonist to any humanistic political economy at all. It is material power reasserting itself as unmoored irrationalism, brutality, and actual interpersonal abuse as politics. How can we adequately respond to that if we have different views of the ultimate good?
 
Well, we can. 

Close Enough

What is it, anyway?  I’ve read several articles and analyses about fascism over the last twenty years, and several articles and short social media posts recently about whether Trump(ism) is (a) fascist/ism. Perhaps I should be more meticulous, perhaps the characterization is hyperbolic or violates one or another scholars’ demarcations, but such hair-splitting is a luxury for those who have time, and I think we don’t have much. What is happening on the right side of American politics is close enough for me. Jim Wolfrey’s decade-old review of Michael Mann’s Fascists and Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism lists what I see as dispositive: simultaneous anger at, and alliances with, economic elites; bedazzlement of power; incapability of conventional political structures to deliver stable social goods; the shifting of “social frustration onto the symbols of nationalism and violence”; a space for racism and sexism through a methodology of interpersonal violence. Such tendencies are fueled by anti-rationalism. There is no need for internal consistency, so Christianity compliments rather than critiques calls for hate. Whatever ideological tools at hand will do. Does it provide visceral satisfaction? Make you feel like it’s okay to feel anger and hate and belonging and pride? It’ll do. And I don’t care what you call it. Our inability to resolve our deepest insecurities, tied together on a beam of economic and social inequality and an extractive, exploitative model of collective life, summons it into being. 

Fighting by Building

Whether the Democrats’ hybrid humanitarian-philanthropic capitalism triumphs over the Republican’s hybrid thugfascist Christian politics of antiempathy is certainly  the defining question of the 2016 presidential election for many. But my concern is how proponents of economic justice and materialized empathy move forward regardless of that outcome. By all means, we should still be active in influencing that outcome, in whatever way our own consciences dictate. But what we actually need to do to create a world where narcissistic billionaires can’t threaten to pull us into their pathetic universes is much more focused and direct. There is a rapidly growing movement for actual economic justice—not mere redistribution, certainly not austerity, but materialized empathy: institutions, laws, and practices that hardwire economic justice, from sustainable and democratic financial practices to provide a material basis for fairness—a basis which, when missing, disempowers us socially and personally, as the sad facts about poor victims of domestic violence illustrates.
 
And so, when the Berkeley City Council this month joined other cities around the country increasing support for worker-owned cooperatives—tax and land-use incentives, educational programs, devoting city procurement to cooperative businesses, and discounting its bids to make cooperatives more viable in the bidding process—the city not only helped build a sustainable, prosperous, and cooperative economy. In building and incentivizing local economic cooperation, Berkeley also fought fascism.
 
Materialized Empathy, the Commonomics USA project I direct, assists local leaders and grassroots organizations in building economies of solidarity and security. Many other valuable organizations are engaged in similar efforts. Each local structure we help build makes us stronger opponents of hate and extremism. Commonomics USA also educates Americans about basic income (I’m hosting a live chat about it on March 4) and postal banking, national programs made necessary by the real state of the economy, a perspective miles outside of the Republicans’ ballpark.
 
Local activism overcomes internal splits too. Tired of your friends in the Sanders and Clinton camps yelling at each other on Facebook? Invite them all to demand public banks in their cities or to shape municipal ordinances supporting community agriculture. Suspicious of the white privilege of many progressives? Study the work of African-American and Latina/o-run cooperative economy projects and intentional communities around the country—and stand in solidarity with them. None of our political standpoints are complete, and none alone can fight the monsters American excess has created. Everyone has a candidate and everyone’s got blueprints. What we need is love—not just in our hearts, but in our policies and—especially—in our economies. That’s how we fight fascism.

In Case I Missed Anything

There is a chance I’ve left something out of this analysis and call to action. If so, unless it says we should be mean to each other, not live sustainably, or not create economically just institutions, it's compatible with what I’ve been trying, however imperfectly, to say. Join us. 
  
Matt Stannard is policy director at Commonomics USA and director of the Materialized Empathy project. He provides research and communications assistance to the Public Banking Institute, speaks and writes on economic justice, and is the author of Love and Production and The American Commons, both of which will be published in 2016


by Commonomics Media Team on November 19th, 2015

Democratic Socialism Board Game Released
 
Commonomics USA releases the first in a series of educational board games on Democratic Socialism in America. The “American Commons” board game (National Edition) is a collaborative fast-paced game that pits the player “citizens” against the oligarchy as citizens attempt to arrange pieces of America’s collective wealth into a defined market economy, robust public services, and a protected American Commons. Future editions will be for state and local economies.
 
Commonomics USA announces the release of the inaugural edition of the American Commons board game. As an educational and entertaining strategy game, it is the only board game on the history of Democratic Socialism in America on the market. It exposes “citizen” players to the rigged economy as they use strategy, skill, and their rights to outmaneuver political corruption. American Commons is designed for two to eight players, age seven and above, and may be played solitarily.
 
American Commons pits the player “citizens” against the oligarchs, uses no money, and includes gaming elements that encourage collaboration. Each citizen’s turn includes a “dice roll” that is predetermined by the previous citizen’s card draw, if any. “Rights” cards and “Voting” cards are stacked accordingly, with special “Technology Wildcards” included in each deck. Software versions of these decks can be played in lieu of the physical decks that are shipped with the game. These are available online and are included at no cost as part of the “American Commons” downloadable app. Decks with specific themes (such as Democratic and Republican Presidential Primary, History of Organized Labor, Monetary Reform, etc.) will also be available through the app.
 
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Democratic Socialism to the American Public as part of the 2016 presidential primary race. “So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me," he said to a Georgetown University audience in November. “It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.”
 
Commonomics USA, formed by veterans of the public banking, debt forgiveness, and foreclosure prevention movements, aims to “advance economic justice, reclaim the commons, and promote democratic economies through nonpartisan partnerships with America's public policy officials, grass roots activists, and the general public,” according to its web site.
 
Marc Armstrong, one of the founders of Commonomics USA and designer of the American Commons board game, says “This game is an opportunity for people to discuss important subjects, like economics and politics, while using their collective reasoning to outmaneuver the oligarchy. The authentic quotes from politicians help to further game play in many surprising ways. The wealth discs, the rights cards, voting cards, and the technology wildcards all interact in a way that brings a sense of order and purpose to the economy. And the bottom line is surprising – can you protect the American Commons? It’s more difficult than one might imagine.”
 
Commonomics USA’s larger vision is a defense of the commons, and implementation of policies that promote human solidarity and resiliency. Armstrong explains that “the commons includes everything from open source software to banking. Government austerity and privatization are the dual threats to our common wealth. We advance the idea that the expansion and protection of the commons, particularly those in the economic arena, will improve our collective wealth.”
 
The web site for Commonomics USA is http://www.commonomicsusa.org/.

by Commonomics Media Team on October 26th, 2015

Marc Armstrong, president of Commonomics USA, discusses the history and resurgence of postal banking with the organization's policy director, Matt Stannard, in this short conversation. 

Listen here. 

by Marc Armstrong on July 10th, 2015

Customization and Co-Branding Available for Partners

Commonomics USA is doing beta testing of a new board game called "American Commons" that focuses on furthering economic justice by protecting the commons. The game voting cards will be available physically, virtually, and through an app. They can be customized by partners who wish to provide a fun and challenging way to provide a compelling way to educate and expand their communities. 

Evaluation orders can be made during July, 2015 and the evaluation copies will be shipped in September. Release of the 2016 Inaugural National Edition will be in November, 2015. Details and ordering information can be found here.

For more information, contact Marc Armstrong at marc@commonomicsusa.org.

by Susan Harman on May 31st, 2015

It is with great pleasure that Commonomics USA notes that the US Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams has, for the second time in a year and a half, endorsed expanding the Post Office’s financial services. We are equally pleased that he agrees with us that most of the services recommended in his "Approach 1" can be started almost immediately.
 
Timing is important because, although it is generally acknowledged that the payday lenders prey on the poor (with interest rates and fees amounting to as much as 1500%), what’s less generally acknowledged is that—until our economy works as well for the 99% as it does for the 1%—these predatory financial servers are a very necessary evil. The sooner the Post Office can offer a reasonably-priced alternative to the predators, the better for the poor and the un- and under-banked of this country.
 
The silver lining of the thriving predatory financial services industry is that it provides the post office a menu of services, their popularity, and their profitability validated by years of real-life experience; no need to “market test potential new products” (unless, of course, they are more innovative than those offered by the predators).
 
The Report offers several Approaches for collaborating with established financial institutions. Commonomics USA takes the strong stand that we need to distinguish sharply between small community banks and credit unions on the one hand, and the huge Wall Street banks on the other. We think the USPS under no circumstances should lend its trustworthiness and good name to the Too Big To Fail banks by collaborating with them.
 
We understand this collaboration has the advantage of the convenience of dealing with one partner, but a similar advantage can be had by dealing with the organizations of community banks and credit unions, instead of with individual small banks and CUs. And the downside of partnering with the convicted criminals of Wall Street makes this approach toxic. (Several big banks recently pleaded guilty to felony charges. They and other big banks have paid billions in civil fines and penalties for fraud and other wrongdoing.)
 
It’s difficult to rank which of these crimes is the most toxic, but for the USPS’ purposes, the worst is that the TBTF banks are the financial backers for the predatory financial services industry. It is these Wall Street banks who are profiting from the despair of the poor through their payday lender middlemen. If the USPS’ goal is to provide much-needed financial services to the poor, the last people they should partner with are the banks who benefit most from the payday lenders.
 
Finally, we respectfully disagree that a full-fledged postal bank is impractical, as some people believe. Numerous other developed countries, and even under-developed ones, have done it well. Are critics essentially saying the US is are so incompetent, a "public option" for basic financial services is beyond our reach? Nonsense. Further, we have a running start: 30,000 paid-for post offices and clerks who already handle pure financial transactions every day.

As we all are painfully aware, the nation’s roads, bridges and other public structures (collectively, “infrastructure”) currently require $2.75 trillion worth of repair and replacement by 2020, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. One immediate use for postal savings deposits can be the formation of a capital base for a National Infrastructure Bank, with the aim of substantially reducing financing costs for public works projects.