Executive Director Noémi Giszpenc attended the New Economy Coalition conference “CommonBound” in Boston this past weekend. The themes of inclusion, of re-invention, of creative thinking and attentive listening, resonated throughout the gathering. While we are definitely seeking a change from the dominant status quo, as attendee Kwabena Nkromo from Atlanta said, “A lot of the economic strategies being promoted are not in fact new. They are practices of solidarity and resilience that some of us are remembering from our ancestors and our homelands.”
One huge highlight of the conference was the performance by Climbing PoeTtree, a pair of young activists, educators, and cultural workers. Their poetry was a deeply moving challenge, both balm and cry of defiance. We can’t match that, but in the spirit of traditions, of vision, and of joy, we wish to offer a limerick inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Stefano Zamagni, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Those of you working on an alternative to Gross Domestic Product as a measure of societal health, this poem has a special message for you.
In the web of our shared humanity
Well-being’s no sum — it’s multiplicity
If even one has got zilch
Then no one is rich
Let us live in the beloved community
Just to spell it out — the idea is that firstly, social well-being is not just a total of our stuff, there is a lot more to it than that. But secondly, if we were to think of each member of society as vitally important, then we might not be adding how much each is producing or consuming, but rather multiplying–which would mean that if even one person had zero, the result would be zero. What would it mean to our society if we put the concept of “no more throw-away people” into policy? What if our “overall wellness product” was zero every time until every single person had an opportunity to lead a decent and joyful life? What if our focus was not on the Forbes 500 richest people, but on those who have lost all hope? As Cylvia Hayes, the First Lady of Oregon, said of the economy, “We invented it, which means we can absolutely re-invent it.” How funny is it that if we switch from adding to multiplying, the whole focus of concern switches from top to bottom? There’s no inherent reason we would count one way versus another — our choice of math is a spiritual one.