From the bottom up, building healthy economies

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at 6:40 PM

Community. A word with many meanings, with many interpretations that go beyond the word itself and into a sense of feeling. And though “Building Healthy Economies and Food Systems from the Bottom Up” was a presentation about food and economics, the real focus was on that word.

They referred to community in the people who organized the event, in the people who gathered to listen and participate in the presentation, and in the discussion, as the speaker was there to show that by building an economy from the bottom up, the community is built up as well.

The speaker, congressional candidate Anthony Flaccavento, was invited to Edinboro University by the EUP Environmental Defense Club, who worked with several organizations from the local area such as Edinboro Market and the Erie County Department of Health.  He gave a lecture based on his book, “Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change.”

Flaccavento began his presentation with economic statistics, aiming to show the importance of the discussion. He explained that since 1980, the population of the U.S. has grown by 42 percent while the economy of the U.S. has tripled in terms of gross domestic product (GDP).

“Why aren’t most of us much better off?” he asked. “In fact, most of us are either at the same level or slightly worse off.”

Flaccavento attributed part of this to the disparity between worker productivity and worker wages. He described a change where worker productivity increased, but their wages did not increase proportionally like they had in the past. 

“So, we know that during the first four years of Barack Obama, 93 percent of all new income — as we were recovering from the great recession — 93 percent of it went to the top 1 percent (of wealthy people),” Flaccavento explained. 

He would claim trickle-down economics do not work because the money at the top stays at the top. Continued policies, meanwhile, in favor of trickle-down economics was one problem he identified. 

The next, he explained, is in the way that the economy is measured. “Smoking,” Flaccavento began, “And eating a one and a quarter pound triple burger with cheese is better [for the economy] than getting outside and gardening and eating a more modest sized meal.”

The reason for this, Flaccavento claimed, is that it causes more money to exchange hands. And not only at the time of purchase. If someone eats excess amounts of fast food, he began, not only is their money going to that food place, but any medical expenses that are brought about by this also adds to the GDP.

To change this, Flaccavento outlined his four recommended steps. The first he described as building local capacity so that an area can provide for itself, instead of bringing in what it needs and sending out what it has.

One example he gave of this are farmers’ markets, specifically describing the one he helped build where he lives. He spoke about its growth and how that helped other local businesses. “Farmers’ Markets...really are incubators,” he said.

Flaccavento explained how they are one of the cheapest ways for people to start their own businesses and to test the market for their product. In addition, he explained that they provide a way for farmers to keep their products local and to make more money on those products, increasing both the self-dependence and the economy of that area.

The second step Flaccavento detailed was to overcome the estrangement that seems so prevalent in a society where people focus on themselves. “A whole bunch of self-actualizing consumers running around trying to do their best,” was how he described it. “[This is] rather than a sense of community.”

He gave several examples of scenarios where communities came together and became closer. He once again mentioned farmers’ markets and how people gather at them, regardless of their religion, political stance or other differences they might have.

The third step he listed was to focus on solving for pattern instead of problem solving. His main example here was farmers having to control weeds. He described how problem solving led to a system where more and more herbicides are needed to control weeds that are increasingly resistant.

Instead, solving for pattern, he explained, involves using crop rotation to reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides needed. Therefore, the problem is solved without creating more problems that would need to be resolved later.

The fourth step he listed was to have a language of action, not abstraction. For this he spoke about participatory budgeting.

“Participatory budgeting, you get the local government to agree to actually give the community a pot of money,” Flaccavento explained. “Over the course of six or nine months, the whole community decides on a bunch of projects.”

Following this example means the community comes together to decide on a project themselves, knowing the money for it is already there.

Once he was finished explaining this, Flaccavento answered several questions from the audience clarifying some points or providing advice to members of the community about how to implement these steps in this area. 

“So, as we assess what our strengths are and what our weaknesses or gaps are,” he said, responding to one question at the end of the lecture, “we need to start thinking about how our economic strategies can meld with our health and environment and human welfare strategies.”

Nathan Hirth can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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