Blogpost: Voices of New Economies: Mike Sandmel

This blog is part of the 'Voices of New Economies' series within Cities for People - an experiment in advancing the movement toward urban resilience and livability through connecting innovation networks.

The Voices of New Economies series is collectively curated by One Earth and The Canadian CED Network.

This series is an exploration of what it takes to build the economies we need - ones that work for people, places, and the planet. We are connecting key actors, finding patterns, noting interesting differences, and highlighting key concepts and initiatives. Together, this series offers insights into the new economies movement as it develops.

What do we mean by "The New Economy" and what does it have to do with cities?

By Mike Sandmel MikeSandmel

It's important to be clear about the language we're using. Certainly there are new economic arrangements being formed in various places and at various scales, and those innovations are important to think about as we imagine the future economy. But when we talk about the "New Economy," we're talking about the next political and economic systems that we need to build to displace the dominant economic paradigm (a.k.a. corporatism, capitalism, neoliberalism... depending on who you're talking to) that is driving inequality, instability, and and ecological crisis worldwide. And we're trying to have that conversation in the context of social movement and economic history.

Key principles of the New Economy

As a network, New Economy Coalition is interested in pragmatic experimentation and is open to a range of perspectives when it comes to the details of exactly how such a system would work, but we're also united by some strong underlying principles.

  • We believe the New Economy needs to be restorative to people, place, and planet. That means getting beyond the kind of thinking that says we can grow our way out of problems at the expense of the natural capital and social capital on which our communities and our society depend.
  • We also believe the New Economy should operate according to principles of democracy, justice and appropriate scale. This means reclaiming the concept of the common good and introducing democracy into economic life from the local to the global, rather than concentrating power in the hands of political or corporate elites.
  • Finally, we believe in a just transition, which means we can't get to the New Economy we need without centering the leadership, needs, and vision of those who have been marginalized by the current extractive economy.

When we apply that lens to the real world, and look at the kinds of work that our members are doing, we see that the individual practices in the New Economy -- things like cooperation, democratic management of the commons, and more holistic views of wealth -- are not actually new at all. Yes, people are using technologies and legal innovations to make this stuff accessible to new audiences but ultimately we're building on practices that have been used by marginalized people for centuries as a means of survival and it's important to honor that.

How does this relate to cities?

Cities are, in so many cases, the fertile ground where seeds of a New Economy are starting to sprout. Here in the US, our federal government hasn't exactly built much of a reputation for being able to do bold and innovative things lately. On the other hand, we've been seeing really exciting developments in cities across the country. We often point to the impressive Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, which are certainly worthy of the attention that they get but there's so much more happening. In Boston, where our main office is located, we've seen an incredible ecosystem of organizations in low-income communities come together to build a growing, affordable, largely community-owned sustainable food economy. In the capitol of Mississippi, Cooperation Jackson made community wealth building the defining issue of their mayoral campaign and are continuing to lead the charge.

In Buffalo New York, community organizers are engaged in a sophisticated campaign to redevelop their neighborhood while creating living wage jobs and building green permanently-affordable housing. In the city of Boulder, Colorado, campaigners recently won a huge victory driving out a private-utility owned coal plant and replacing it with a new green municipal energy utility.  The city of Chattanooga, in Tennessee, is now home to the nation's fastest internet speeds thanks to a municipally owned broadband network.

These are just a few of the more dramatic examples. We're also seeing major cities raising their minimum wages, divesting their pensions funds from the fossil fuel industry, investing in co-ops and community ownership, embracing participatory budgeting, and much much more.

To talk about system change and building a New Economy in the face of the stagnation and regression of our national politics may seem naive.  However, to call for anything less than system change in the face of urgent and growing social and ecological injustice would be insufficient. I'd argue that this is all the more reason to look toward cities as a critical place where radical demands can be met with pragmatic and transformative possibilities.


Mike Sandmel is the Manager of Coalition Engagement for the New Economy Coalition. Raised by politically active Unitarian Universalists, Mike began organizing as a high school freshman working on a successful town wide living wage campaign. He graduated magna cum laude from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study with an interdisciplinary BA in ecology and economics. He founded and managed the NYU Bike Share, the first ever bike-sharing program in New York City. He was a 2011 Morris K. Udall Scholar, an exchange student in political economy and economic history at Stockholm University, and authored an honors thesis entitled "Populism In The Anthropocene: A Study of Climate Change Politics at Occupy Wall Street.” He has served for two years on the steering committee of SustainUS, a youth-run NGO that advocates for sustainable development at the UN level. He has taken part in delegations to UN negotiations in Rio de Janeiro and Doha. His writing has appeared in Grist, Common Dreams, Waging Nonviolence, Nation Of Change, N+1, and Alternet as well as Andrew Revkin's "Dot Earth" blog for the New York Times.


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