In My Wildest Economic Dreams…

1. Community service would be a tradable commodity.

2. Homelessness would not exist.

3. Health care would be free.

For the record, I consider myself a pragmatist, not an idealist. Pragmatically I know that, no matter how grand or modest the pursuit, both good and bad will result from it. There will always be unintended, unforeseeable consequences of systemic change, and there is never a point at which you can unequivocally step back and say, “Yes. We’re done. We’ve arrived.” Nevertheless, pursuing big ideas nets big impact, so my approach is to think big and dream big; go big or go home. Combined with diligent, dedicated work and incredibly creative strategies, big ideas are how systems start to change.

Our current economic system is floundering. Stagnant unemployment rates–7.8% in the U.S. for December 2012, and 9.8% in California during the same time–have spawned expert conversations about the reality of structural unemployment. Even if we wait for the global economy to rebound, for the Great Recession to yield to a boom cycle, there will not be enough jobs to support the global population of the 21st century. In the words of local nonprofit-slash-tech-startup, Samasource, “There is a global shortfall of 1.8 billion formal jobs.”

In 2001 Bernard Lietaer, a premier international expert on monetary systems and the global financial industry, predicted the economic crisis that started in 2008. In his book The Future of Money, he warned against increasingly risky speculation by giants of the financial industry. He argued that, based on the underlying principles of our modern financial system and the erasure of jobs inherent to the Information Age, complementary currencies must be developed to fill new and changing societal needs. With daunting issues such as climate change and water rights, the 21st century has already been marked by an acute awareness of our limited material resources. With the ceaseless information and exploration available through the Internet, however, we are also acutely aware of the unlimited capacity of human ingenuity.

As people, as workers, as family members, time is our most valuable human resource. With high unemployment, now some of us have a lot more time and with a wealth of skills and experience behind it. Add the context that, according to Paul Hawken in his seminal work, Blessed Unrest, grassroots responses to injustice have generated over one million organizations worldwide dedicated to sweeping social change. Within those organizations are people practicing thousands of new ideas about how we work, how we trade, and how we construct our communities. They’re building complementary economies. This confluence of events means we have a unique opportunity to invest our newfound time in experimenting with emerging economic and social change models. And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, because there are already incredible local organizations where we can contribute, observe, and feed our capacity for invention.

Some of these organizations, like Samasource and Juma Ventures, are blending the best of nonprofit and for-profit principles to address systemic poverty. Some, like time banks throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, are testing formal complementary currencies as Lietaer recommended. I love learning about these organizations, because it’s inspiring to see the ambition of the tech world work alongside grounded, purposeful human service. And the more people know about these groups, learn from their experiences, and bring further innovation to these models, the more diverse and resilient our economy will be.

So, to bring it back (and add on, of course) to my original statement, in my wildest political and economic dreams:

1. Community service would be a tradable commodity.

2. Homelessness would not exist.

3. Health care would be free (including reproductive care and education).

I’m betting on the successes and failures from pursuing my first ‘big idea’ to inform the solutions for the second two ideas. I’m counting on my Millenial peers to further the social frontier by learning through new types of work. I’m trusting in the talents, passions, and visions of our communities to generate new solutions that don’t just address current problems but fuel future innovation. In short, I believe in the capacity of human ingenuity to solve unprecedented global problems.

Our material resources–natural and financial–may be dwindling or unsteady, but our human intellectual resources cannot be exhausted as long as we continue to use them. We desperately need a more resilient economy, and I absolutely believe we have the resources to build it.

—–

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” -Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 1788

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