It’s been a long time since I posted here. Most of my energy and effort has gone into my PhD, my parenting and my climate activism at Climate Pledge Collective. But now I’m launching a new project called New Growth Collective.
Tearing down dangerous and oppressive systems is almost impossible if those systems are larger and more powerful than the communities and systems that are trying to tear them down. New Growth Collective aims to come at the problem from another angle by sowing the seeds of a better world and hoping it can outgrow all the toxic systems that endanger us.
On the surface, New Growth Collective is an ethical gift shop selling postcards and ebooks, but it also aims to serve as a hub connecting and promoting other ethical businesses so people can stop pumping money into the systems that are destroying us.
I’ve included images of the postcards I’m selling. The art is mostly by a good friend and fellow activist James Sandham. Below the postcards is a longer essay on how and why New Growth Collective aims to transform the world.
Have you ever wanted to step out of our anxiety-driven economy into a better world?
In this short essay, I’m going to share a vision of a kinder, more nourishing economy which we can build right now using the same tools and laws that undergird our present system. All we have to do stop extracting surplus and start feeding it back into society where it is most needed. In four short sections, I will explain how this network would work; why it is needed; why it has a better chance of succeeding than you might think; and, finally, how it differs (though not greatly) from many of the organizations that are already hard at work building a kinder more ethical economy.
The Principles and Guidelines that Structure the New Growth Network
Any business, enterprise or non-profit that abides by these 3 principles is already a member of the New Growth Network if it wants to be.
1. No Profits.
All surplus from sales must be reinvested into the business (or non-profit), paid out in hourly wages or invested into a social cause or the seed fund for another New Growth style business. This is the core of the network: a reinvestment in healing, in one another and in other businesses that will operate in the same manner – hopefully displacing more cut-throat businesses in the process.In our current economy, profits are paid out to shareholders or owners and then reinvested with the expectation of a further return on investment – this means new businesses can only get loans if they are designed to turn a profit quickly, forcing them into all the most ruthless practices of the modern economy. A seed fund – because it grows out of abundance – would be a gift rather than a loan, giving new businesses the freedom to design themselves to be kind and nourishing rather than mercenary.
2. Fair Wages.
In our current economy, people need to get paid so they can buy the necessities of life. So pay your people. And pay them well enough that they can be comfortable. Maybe even pay them well enough so that they don’t need to work full time. Because we aren’t building a better world if everyone still has to spend most of their life working. Exactly what a fair wage is depends on the cost of living in your city and how well your business is doing. Ideally, everyone in your business will make well above minimum wage and there won’t be huge gaps between employees. The New Growth Network won’t require a specific ‘fair’ wage – but the third principle will keep participants honest.
The third principle is what allows the other principles to remain so vague. Businesses in the New Growth Network will label themselves, both in order to attract customers AND so that those customers can keep them honest. Your financial information must be made public. Customers should know how much employees are paid, how much you pay for your merchandise and how much your mark up is. If you’re still struggling and you don’t have any surplus to redirect to social causes yet, that’s okay: people will know you’re still trying your best because all your financials are public. And, on the other side, if you pay a good wage and you’re redirecting extra profits to some important social cause, then people will see that your mark-ups are justified. This principle also means there’s no need for any kind of oversight or bureaucracy in the New Growth Network, allowing the network to remain decentralized and self-organizing. You choose if you’re in or out and your customers decide if you’re doing a good enough job. The three principles are the entire bureaucracy. Customer scrutiny is the only enforcement. These three principles should be enough to make the network work. Customers will know to look out for Network members. Employees will be paid fairly and any surplus will go to good causes or growing the network by funding new start ups.
In addition to the three principles which determine whether or not an organization is part of the network, there are three guidelines which will help these businesses and organizations ensure that they are doing as much good as possible.
1. Heal your supply chain.
Many of the worst harms of the modern economy are hidden from end customers by long supply chains. Shrimp are fed with bait fish which are often harvested by people enslaved on boats. The minerals in advanced electronics are mined by children. Clothing is often sewn in sweatshops or made piecemeal in people’s homes for negligible wages. The owners of the ULINE supply company are major contributors to the most horrific American politicians. Even if you are paying your service staff well and redirecting profits to a good cause, your business might still be doing more harm than good if it is pumping money into unethical supply chains like these.As a tiny start-up, it may be impossible to research your entire supply chain, but as they grow, New Growth Network enterprises should do their research and switch to more ethical providers or help their suppliers to clean up their act. Again, the best bureaucracy here is transparency. Publish everything you know about your supply chain and the choices you have made – including your short-comings. Not only will this help your customers stay informed, it will also help other businesses find good suppliers and help good suppliers find new customers.
2. Do businesses with other New Growth Network members.
If the goal is to create a kinder, more nourishing parallel economy, then it will be necessary to make these businesses interconnected. Ideally, a New Growth Restaurant would buy its produce from a New Growth farm or CSA. As the network grows, it will also be possible to see which sectors of the economy are still dominated by profit-driven businesses. Seed Funds could be intentionally directed toward these sectors. If the network has many cafes and retail shops, they could begin contributing to a seed fund for a real estate investment trust that would remove properties from the pandemonium of the real estate market and provide them at a fair rent to new growth businesses.
3. Have an alternative ownership model.
Many of today’s richest men got their wealth from owning shares in start-ups which grew exponentially. If the founders and early employees of a new growth business own most of the shares of that business, it is still possible for a New Growth business to increase inequality, rather than reducing it.Because the network will not be centralized or bureaucratic, there is no specific requirement here. Your business might organize as a worker’s coop where all employees, including new employees, have relatively equal ownership stakes. You might register as a charity, non-profit or social enterprise – depending on the legal options available in your location. You might create some kind of a trust that owns your business. It might work best to incorporate in the traditional way if you don’t expect to franchise or build up significant assets. There are many options here, depending on your needs. As with other aspects of your business, be transparent and let the customers determine if your choices are good enough
Obviously, this idea was built upon a huge amount of other previous thought and experimentation. I haven’t provided that context here but I do intend to provide it elsewhere. For now, let me just give a big shout out to J.K. Gibson-Graham.