A Rescue Plan Built on Community Wealth, Not Corporate Giveaways – Governing
Right now, local governments around the country are trying to decide how to make the best use of the billions in economic revitalization dollars that became available when President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law in March. As communities cope with the wide-ranging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ARP’s $350 billion in Fiscal Recovery Funds offer a historic opportunity to rewire our local economies.
Biden says that “the American Rescue Plan meets the moment,” but this moment is one in which looming climate collapse, worsening economic inequality, and persistent systemic racial, gender and social disadvantages are converging in a perfect cataclysmic storm. This funding represents our best — and maybe our last — chance to avoid the worst of that storm and steer toward a new system built on justice, equity and protection of the planet.
Yet talk of “building back better” is still too often predicated on a return to the old economic normal of narrow ownership and wealth extraction, all bedeviled by low pay and insecure work. The economic development template of the past few decades — woo large and usually already wealthy corporations with generous tax and regulatory giveaways — remains a hardy perennial even in the wake of a deep track record of inefficiency, ineffectiveness and even fraud.
That’s why the way we practice mainstream local economic development needs a reset. We have to decisively reject the idea that once we secure growth at the top, benefits for communities will trickle down. Instead, we need to use economic development money in the service of racial, social, economic and ecological justice, with greater democratic and community ownership as the foundation for true economic transformation. Community wealth building is the emergent development paradigm for making that happen.
The Democracy Collaborative, for which we work, began developing the theory and practice of community wealth building in 2005. At its core, it is about broadening ownership and control of assets and wealth so that the economy works for all of us and not just an elite few. To share and grow household and community assets, local governments can implement or support a variety of mechanisms, such as cooperatives, employee-owned firms, community land trusts, community finance and public banks, and municipal enterprises. Community wealth building also harnesses the economic power of local, place-based anchor institutions, including universities and hospitals, to recycle wealth back into surrounding communities.
The transformative power of this approach has been demonstrated in Cleveland, where we partnered with the city government, local philanthropies, anchor institutions and community-based organizations in 2008 to launch the Evergreen Cooperatives. That has grown from a commercial laundry into a network of …….