There is more than one economy | Neva Goodwin (2018)

Human economies can be understood in more than one way.

  • The private business economy is what economics textbooks are generally about.
  • The public purpose economy consists of governments and their agencies as well as non-profits and international institutions like the World Bank or the United Nations. The public purpose economy is a collection of institutions that are justified by their stated intention to act for some broader good than their own profit or enrichment – though they may differ widely in their definitions of what is “good”.
  • The core economy is where households and communities carry on their internal activities of production, distribution and consumption. The core economy’s justification and purpose is the survival and well-being of its members. It is located in home, family, and neighborhood; places that function as markets for emotional, social, and civic transactions. This paper will consider some distinguishing characteristics of these three economies – in particular: their goals or justifications; what currency they use; what kind of demand they respond to; and how they define and reward work.

The second half of the paper will offer reflections on the harms caused by an excessive dominance of the private business economy over the other two, with thoughts on some of what will be required to redress this balance. It will conclude with an image of a healthier relationship between humanity and our natural environment – a relationship that will inevitably come about, whether we choose to move into it positively, or are forced into it by breakdowns in all of our economies resulting from natural and social disasters.

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In market economies many human activities have little or no money value; these include, especially, the kinds of caring labor that are supplied, mostly by women, mostly in homes and communities. Nevertheless, there is, as ever, a great need for such activities. At the same time, wealthy societies are producing ever more people who suffer from feeling that they have little or nothing of value to offer to the world. Retired people, in their growing numbers, are the most obvious examples, but teenagers and other youth, who in other societies can contribute significantly to the well-being of a family or a community, are seldom seen as assets in modern economies. Market-dominated societies have had difficulty expressing the value of work that is not organized for profit. Such work is undertaken in the public purpose economy, consisting of governments and their agencies as well as non-profit organizations. Much of this kind of work is also undertaken in the core economy, where households and communities carry on their internal activities of resource management, production, distribution, and consumption. The core economy and the public purpose economy, together with the market economy, are a trio that are differentiated by their goals; by what kind of demand they respond to; by how they define and reward work; and by what kind of currency they use. TimeBanking is an innovation in currency that turns out to affect all of these areas by getting us out of the binary box that classifies all contributions in just two ways: work (defined in market terms), or volunteering (defined as uncompensated labor). Responding effectively to different values and goals than those recognized in the market, TimeBanking has been shown able to respond to a wide variety of unmet needs by creating relationships where everyone can get some of their needs met, and everyone is valued for what they can offer.

Keywords: caring labor, core economy, co-production, currency, dependency, retirees, TimeBanking, value, work

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