Democratic Economy

Democratic Economy??? Never heard about it?!?! Maybe you should!


            Recently, the London Poverty Research Centre and by extension the Inclusive Economy Working Group, hosted an event titled “The Making of a Democratic Economy – How to build prosperity for the many.” The keynote speakers were Michelle Baldwin from Pillar Nonprofit Network and Ted Howard from The Democracy Collaborative. Ted coauthored the book “The Making of a Democratic Economy – Building Prosperity for the Many, Not Just the Few.” Sounds interesting right? Caught my attention at least! But what the heck is a democratic economy??? Sounds like dreamy utopian language fitting for socially justice-oriented minds (like myself) BUT NOT THE REAL WORLD. Wait for it…It’s already happening! Join my journey and explore this concept with me.

            Society appears to be clamouring for change. More than a decade ago (yes, it’s been that long), Barack Obama inspired many citizens south of the border with messages of hope, change, and possibilities – “Yes we can.” We have also seen it around the globe in the form of uprisings, protests, social movements etc. – think Arab Spring, Idle No More, protests in England and France, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wallstreet, MeToo. Although different in mandates and objectives, social issues seem to be rising to the core all around us. Why is this? Complex discussion! However, invoking my critical theoretical lens, I would stipulate that social systems, structures and institutions appear to be working for some (mostly the few) in their current format but not all (the many – especially those that are marginalized). What does this have to do with poverty or ‘a democratic economy’? Why should we be concerned with “the many”?

            A chain is only as strong as its weakest link! If we envision a strong society/community (local, national or global), then we need to make it work for “the many”, which actually benefits us all. Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be about? Making decisions that benefit “the many”?!?! Unless you live in a secluded gated community that supplies all the necessary amenities within and you never leave, which doesn’t exist (not yet at least), then you will have to venture into the real world and all the social ills that exist as a result of inequality. The fact remains – our current economical structure seems to be working for “the few” and NOT for “the many” as rising income inequality becomes increasingly problematic. Wealth inequality hurts us all! It affects the social fabric of the community, hinders upward class mobility, stifles innovation, and even our politics/decision-making. How can we have a democratic political system without a fairer (democratic) economical system? Wealth impacts someone’s political power and influence. In the hands of “the few”, it means that decisions are being made unresponsive to the needs and wants of “the many”. In the aforementioned book by Ted Howard (and Marjorie Kelly), it refers to this trend as capital bias or an extractive economy, which is “favouritism toward finance and wealth-holders that is woven invisibly throughout the system” at the expense of workers, communities and the environment. The social ills and multiplying crises on our globe reflect our current economy. For example, if corporations main aim is to maximize profits, then of course they will want to pay workers less, provide less benefits, move companies to countries with less regulation etc. The increase of precarious employment is a result of our current economical system. But can this change?

            A democratic economy can challenge our current system! We must envision community wealth building as opposed to individual/corporate wealth building! So, what exactly is a democratic economy? Simply put, it is redesigning our basic institutions so that our economy serves the interests of the community as opposed to an individual (or few). There are various aspects of a democratic economy and on varying scales but envision a community-minded economy! Sounds utopian right? Maybe, but it is already happening in various parts of the world. Google “The Cleveland Model” or “The Preston Model”! Look at the website of “The Democracy Collaborative”. There is a movement happening already…get on the bandwagon or research it at least! This is a grassroots, community-minded initiative so don’t be fearful of the gigantic systems in place. Will it solve all our problems? No! But it’s a step in the right direction, it’s gathering momentum, and there are practical examples showing that it can be done. Introduce yourself to the concept at least! I’m a cynic at heart but the book and concept provided optimism and hope. Change begins with hope and vision. It seems like we all need it…Yes we can!

            In my next post, I plan on doing a book review and some analysis. Stay tuned.


Blog written by Shand Licorish and the post doesn’t necessarily reflect the position of the London Poverty Research Centre. Shand lives in London, Ontario and has experience working in the community on the front lines of the social service sector for more than a decade and is also involved with various community/grassroots initiatives.