These ideas and many more like them are seen as long shots at best given today’s public discourse about the economy. Yet there is much evidence that today’s economy is broken—many of our neighbors simply cannot make ends meet despite their best efforts, and a handful of elites control an ever-greater share of the nation’s capital.
There is a movement underway to create a framework for a new economy. I was excited to have the opportunity to present earlier this month at the New Economy Coalition’s conference, “CommonBound: Moving Together toward a New Economy,” at Northeastern University. Broadly defined, a new economy is an economy that puts people and the planet first. More than 600 attendees spent three days working together to define exactly what that meant, whom it includes and what it could look like. The New Economy Coalition is a collaborative network that includes more than 100 organizations and businesses “working to build the movement for a just and sustainable future,” and I’m happy to say that Public Works is among them.
At Public Works, we believe that in order to move toward a new economy, we need to improve public understanding of the role the public sector plays in building an economy’s foundation. We need to help people answer the fundamental questions: What is the economy for? How can we work together to intentionally create a new economy with the many public tools at our disposal?
The mainstream economy is increasingly failing our nation and holding back communities of color in particular. So how do we instill in the culture new ideas of how an economy can and should work differently? Most Americans think the economy acts like a natural system, that we must simply “weather the storm” when times are tough, and that individual choices shape economic success. We have to tear down these default narratives before we can engage the public in a debate about creating the fundamentally different set of public expectations, laws and programs that are needed to make a new economy real.
Fortunately, there are ways we can begin to use the growing interest in creating a new economy to reframe the role of the government. We can do this by building support for the role that public systems can play in providing opportunities to build wealth and security across race and class. Research we have commissioned and our experience in the field have informed us that we need to:
1) Assert intentionality – Communicate that the economy is not a natural system but rather a man-made one driven by intentional policy choices as well as the choices of individuals.
2) Uplift the role of government – Emphasize that the public sector has a role to play in ensuring everyone has access to opportunity and in ending extreme wealth inequality.
These core ideas were found in abundance at the CommonBound gathering, and it was energizing to be able to share Public Works’ experience and resources on how we can work together to build a new economy. There were other great workshops and discussions at the event, including a session on framing led by the Center for Story-based Strategy and a session on closing the racial wealth gap led by PolicyLink. And there was a clear recognition that this emerging movement must reclaim the conversation about government as well.
Building a movement that seeks to challenge the status quo, reframe how we see ourselves in relation to each other and change the way we believe the economy should function is challenging, but the need and desire for a new economy is real and thriving. At Public Works, we are excited to be a part of the new economy movement, and we look forward to working with others in the months and years ahead to build support for a government that is empowered to create an economy that works for all.
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