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Issue 277
March/April 2013
The Quiet Revolution

Reviews

Slow Protest
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Cover: Awakening by Olivia Fraser www.oliviafraser.com

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Slow Protest

Ed Mayo finds the book that joins the dots. The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy by Michael Lewis & Patrick Conaty. New Society Publishers, 2012. ISBN: 9780865717077

There is nothing more valuable than a good map. If you know the land, you have the map inside you. If you have an instinct for directions, you can sense which way to go. But there is no substitute for the comfort of a map, which allows you to gauge your progress and to measure your pace.

The landscape of our economy and society is complex, changing and insecure. Few of us would claim to know the world we are moving into. Values, for sure, can act as a sense of direction, shaping how we should live and cooperate with others. But we also need a map. And now we have one.

We are living through a time of ‘slow protest’, suggest Michael Lewis and Patrick Conaty: a time in which people are responding to the inequalities and destruction that pass for today’s economic growth with innovations that “are also uprisings of a kind … fed by the yeast of focused intention, the search for practical pathways to enduring change, and the commitment to put democracy into daily action”.

Land, money, work, housing, energy, banking – all these offer examples of social, ecological and economic initiatives that are not just defensive responses to the world around, but visionary examples of recasting it around practical needs.

If you have ever had an interest in land reform or monetary reform, common ownership or local energy systems, community banking or affordable housing, then The Resilience Imperative is a book that joins up the dots. It is a meticulous account of a wide range of community economic development initiatives, large and small, new and old, and how they can spread and join together to create the common wealth we need rather than private wealth.

The authors quote an anonymous Welsh poet at the outset: “Our job is to make hope more concrete and despair less convincing.”

The two authors have an outstanding track record of social innovation for a more just and sustainable economy. Mike Lewis has led a programme of radical action in community settings across Canada, while here in the UK Pat Conaty has been instrumental in developing debt advice, kick-starting the field of community finance, and pioneering community land trusts.

What they describe is therefore born out of practice rather than ideas. The Resilience Imperative will tell you the comparative costs for a 10-year loan on interest-free principles, drawn from the experience of the JAK Cooperative Bank in Sweden. It will tell you the number of families that can be housed on an initial investment, over 30 years, using the community land trust model rather than the model of conventional homebuyer loans.

Successive chapters work through practical examples of community economic development, with the sure touch of practitioners who know what they are on about: energy sufficiency, local food, transition economics, community banking and ownership transfer, among others. In each case, they draw on stories – some well known, others not so, and all up to date – that exemplify the approach they are pointing to, which is to turn economic models on their head and put people and Nature first.

Like all good maps, this book gives you the detailed contours and the broad outlines. I learned a lot from the detail, but also from the patterns that the authors were able to point to. Central to all community economic development is a cycle, which requires patient money that is rooted in the enterprise and is adaptable. Not surprisingly, Lewis and Conaty stress the role of equity rather than debt finance, and enterprise rather than charity, as a way of addressing the systemic weaknesses of the collapsing mainstream economy.

The Resilience Imperative tells us that it is OK to dream in the daytime. The authors are practical pioneers with an unrivalled track record of cooperative innovation. You can now read how they have done it.

Ed Mayo is Secretary General of Co-operatives UK. www.uk.coop

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