Good News: 2019 Cooperative Economics Roundup

California Public Banking advocates standing under holiday lights

Debbie says:

Except for a quick mention in our Thanksgiving good news post, I haven’t written here about the economic justice work I do since 2017 (!). (This irritates Laurie, and she’s right.)

So I wanted to share Juliana Broad’s article at The Next System Project, “Major Advances in 2019 toward a More Democratic Economy.” Broad starts out with the public banking victories in 2019, especially the passage and signing of AB857, for which I have been one of the unpaid lobbyists and worker bees. That’s a crew of my compadres in the picture above.

In October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed State Assembly Bill 857 into law, making it easier for California municipalities and regions to establish their own public banks. The bill was supported by a diverse coalition of California groups, among them unions, political parties, and community and environmental groups. These democratically owned and controlled financial institutions will be under the same regulatory supervision as private banks, yet can have a radically different purpose: to address the needs of local communities instead of enriching private shareholders. Public banks promise to serve the people most marginalized by private financial institutions, which have busied themselves alternating between excluding and predating upon communities of color.

Just a few weeks later, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy took the first steps needed to start a state-owned public bank, signing an executive order establishing a 14-person implementation board. The board will have one year to develop the public bank’s business plan to reflect communities’ capital needs, and outline a governance and operation structure. “A public bank would expand access to capital that is needed to address New Jersey’s most pressing and unmet needs in our state’s most under-served communities,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action and one of the four public members of the implementation board. “There are many socially beneficial projects that don’t have adequate funding, including upgrades to public infrastructure, expanding affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization, reducing student loan debt, and providing micro-loans for small businesses.”

Various regional members of the California Public Banking Alliance are now busy going through the bureaucratic and administrative steps necessary to form actual public banks. Look for news from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and my own East Bay group in the coming year, with more to come. The law only permits two applications a year, with a maximum of 10 in seven years, so we have to move quickly.

Broad also talks about worker ownership (cooperative) advances:

In April, Massachusetts revived its Office for Employee Involvement and Ownership (EIO), newly allocated a $150,000 budget and tasked with consulting baby-boomer-owned businesses on how to transfer ownership of their business to their employees. In the same month, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order launching a statewide commission to research and support the conversion of businesses to worker ownership. Maine Governor Janet Mills, who was sworn into office in January, made worker ownership a key component of her economic development campaign platform, pledging to provide low-interest financing to companies that want to convert to worker ownership.

She goes on to discuss activity in Berkeley, California, and the state of Illinois. She doesn’t mention the growing Staffing Cooperative (led by a friend of mine) which is moving cooperative concepts into the world currently dominated by the gig economy and unprotected workers.

Finally, Broad discusses the progress of the community land trust movement:

In June, the New York City Council earmarked $750,000 of the city’s budget for incubating community land trusts, providing funding for technical assistance, educational outreach, and community organizing. Earlier in the year, community land trusts across the state won a somewhat bittersweet victory: As part of a settlement with two large banks accused of misconduct that led to the 2008 housing foreclosure crisis, New York State Attorney General Leticia James allocated $8 million to bolster the work of CLTs.

Though there have been large legislative victories, there are also smaller movements for a more democratic economy breaking out across the country. In June, San Antonio City Councilmember Manny Pelaez urged the city council to explore the use of CLTs to combat housing displacement. Community members in Charlotte, North Carolina are fighting for more provisions for their community land trust, with growing support from key city council members. In December, the city council in Allentown, Pennsylvania voted unanimously in favor of an economic development plan that would create a land bank program in coordination with a community land trust, with the explicit aim of keeping “wealth and wealth-creation local.”

The other area where I see major movement which isn’t in Broad’s article is the burgeoning demand for (and availability of) public power. Of course, this is of particular interest to Northern Californians dealing with the incompetence, bankruptcy, and corruption of Pacific Gas & Electric, our local utility. But it is also a national movement. Here’s @JohannaBozuwa on Twitter, showcasing the latest positive research:

As with all the other aspects of justice, we are pummeled every day by reminders of how far we have to go, and how badly people are suffering under the current system. So it can be a useful bit of balance to see what is happening, and the good work people are doing.