What Could Possibly Go Right?

What Could Possibly Go Right?: Episode 94 with Gwendolyn Hallsmith

November 29, 2022

Show Notes

Gwendolyn Hallsmith is the Executive Director of Global Community Initiatives, a non-profit organization she founded in 2002, and has just celebrated their 20th anniversary. She is the author of six books on sustainable community and economic development and has worked with communities all over the world to foster caring communities, vibrant local economies, good governance, efficient services, and healthy ecosystems. She founded Vermonters for a New Economy to work on economic solutions at the state level, and the Headwaters Garden and Learning Center, an ecovillage in Cabot, VT.

She and her husband, Michael Taub, sing in a folk duo called The New Economistas. She has a master’s degree in Public Policy from Brown University and did additional graduate work at the University of British Columbia and the Andover Newton Divinity School.

She answers the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • Transitioning away from capitalism into new ways of thinking; a “caring economy”
  • Alternative examples for money and ownership, such as timebanking, neighborhood caring models, universal basic income, and sharing economy
  • The need to make changes in three systems of food, energy and money


Connect with Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Website: hallsmith.org

YouTube: youtube.com/globalcommunityinitiatives


Gwendolyn Hallsmith: What possibly could go right is historians look back on our time and they say that was the beginning of the caring economy. That was the beginning of the economy, moving back into a place where it cared for the people and the planet that we live on.

Vicki Robin: Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project to the Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good; and social artists, people who take the pulse of the times and create in this time when so much seems to be coming apart, for sure, much is coming together that we can’t see. Our guests help us to see more clearly and act more courageously in this potent time of change.

Today’s guest is Gwen Hallsmith. I met Gwen over 25 years ago at an international meeting of systems thinkers. She is always up to something transformative in applying systems theory to local economies, so I invited her to join us.

Gwen is the Executive Director of Global Community Initiatives, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2002 and they just celebrated their 20th anniversary. She’s the author of six books on sustainable community and economic development, and has worked with communities all over the world to foster caring communities, vibrant local economies, good governance, efficient services, and healthy ecosystems. She founded Vermonters for a New Economy to work on economic solutions at a state level and the Headwaters Garden and Learning Center, an eco village in Cabo, Vermont.

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She and her husband Michael to sing and a folk duo called The New Economistas. She has a master’s degree in public policy from Brown University and did additional graduate work at the University of British Columbia and Andover Newton Divinity School. And now let’s welcome Gwen.

Vicki Robin: Hey Gwen Hallsmith. Welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right? I am thrilled to have you say yes to this. You are like an older sister of another mother to me. You think big picture. You cultivate your inner life while making waves in the world. You advocate for alternatives to how we could do business that you really believe will work. You are visionary and practical, and you believe in community solutions, not just Lone Ranger heroics. You’ve risked and failed and stood up to the powers that be in positions that you’ve held in Vermont and elsewhere, and you keep on trucking. So, I’m glad you came into my life 25 years ago and that I’ve been able to sort of trail along behind you ever.

So, you know, the premise of what could possibly go right is that within every breakdown there are seeds of breakthrough if we water and cultivate them. It’s not a given what future will emerge, but our guests help us peer on the horizon for promising next steps that could tilt our world toward justice and conviviality.

I know you have a framework for economic transformation that rhymes with a sacred Hindu sound, and you could go there. But you could also just freewheel for us about present occurrences that have piqued your interest. So with that, in the face of all that is going awry, Gwen, what could possibly go right?

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Wow. What could possibly go right from my point of view is that historians, a hundred years from now, will look back on our time as the time at the beginning of the end of capitalism. But we are transitioning into a different thing. Now, I, I can’t say I am completely sure what that different thing is, but what possibly could go right is historians look back on our time and they say that was the beginning of the caring economy.

That was the beginning of eco-economy, moving back into a place where it cared for the people and the planet that we live, instead of the pursuit of profit and all of the things that we take for granted in the capitalist society.

Vicki Robin: That’s an interesting statement. You say, go back to a caring economy. So yeah, I think, when did we have one?

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: And I think we can look back in pre-history, right? Where we were living a lot closer to the land. In more harmony with the natural environment and a more tribal system than we have now. For sure. We didn’t have the kind of problems that we have today.

There was a lower population on the planet. There was lots of things that were working right for them at the time, way back in history to the era where we were matrilineal instead of patriarchal to the era where we had a relationship with the earth. If we didn’t have that relationship, we didn’t survive.

I think of that as more of a caring economy than we have now. But there’s also a forward part of that too. There’s clearly things that we’ve learned and done and created as human beings that can help us get there, a lot more effectively than, than in prior times. I mean, we are in the age of miracles, really.

I think back to my childhood and, and the idea that I could have a little thing in my pocket that not only could call, but could get me access to the entire world of information and less time than it took me to walk to the library to get out a book. That’s a miracle. All these things that we’ve created are pushing us forward into an era that we haven’t clearly seen yet, but there are glimpses and seeds just like you talk about. I think, looking at that economic construct I was talking about, we see more sharing now, admittedly, some of those sharing things like Airbnb and Uber and that are also companies that are producing a profit, but it, it does enable everyday people to get involved in the tourist industry, for example, and benefit from it when before that was the purview of large corporations. And so that’s sharing effectively the tourist industry with lots of different people, worker-coworker, owned companies, ESOPs, the implied stock ownership programs. All of those things are dimensions of sharing instead of all one person or, or one set of shareholders controlling the whole lot.

You know, sharing is actually something that is seen a lot in indigenous societies. There was a very interesting story by an archeologist, an anthropologist that went to Africa, and when this team of anthropologists came to this community, the community, all their doors were oriented toward the central fire. When somebody had some good luck with hunting or fishing or something and brought home a lot of stuff, it was shared with the community quite openly, naturally, not any difficulty around it.

But these same anthropologists brought these little tokens to show their appreciation that the native community had never seen. And they started collecting and hoarding those little tokens. And over the time that the anthropologists were there, the doors of the buildings changed. The amount of sharing in the community changed.

So the introduction of this scarce exchange mechanism actually affected the way the community behaved, and that’s true now on a global scale with our current monetary system. I’m not a fan of it, as it’s anti-sharing. It’s hoarding. Yeah. If we looked at any society down through time and found that one person was hoarding all the food and resources and leaving the rest of their little community, their little tribe to starve, we would think they were sick.

But that’s what’s happening now on a global scale. With the creation of the economic elite that actually do just that. They hoard all the resources, all the things for themselves, and they’re letting the rest of the world and mother nature starve.

Vicki Robin: Where do you see chinks in that though? I mean like all of us rail against this, the system and we’re sort of like sharing around the edges, but are there chinks in that armor?

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: I don’t know that where there’s so much chinks in the armor as there are the demands of human needs that are gonna come in a collision course with that system. And already are. You know that, that we as human beings, we have to eat, we have to shelter ourselves. We need, we need to have community. We need to have power over our own lives.

We need a sense of caring that we share with our neighbors and our children and our elders. And all of those needs now are being moved into service to the profits of the larger economy, but that can’t last. And I think that what we’ll see is over time, these new forms that arise because of the failure of the old system, like the sharing and gig economy, like cryptocurrency, like all of the new innovations we’ve seen.

Time banks and care banks and commercial barter systems and food currencies and all the things that people are trying out now on a partial local basis will grow and flourish if we know to water them and tend them, like you say, these are seeds and you have to plant them, and then they grow.

I started a time bank in Montpelier. Now a time bank is a pretty interesting thing. I see you talked to Stephanie Rearick, who’s great with her mutual system. I mean, she’s a time banker from way back. but in a time bank you basically exchange time instead of money.

And everybody’s time is worth the same. It’s not more valuable because you’re a trained doctor or a lawyer than it is if you’re a babysitter. Because even trained doctors and lawyers need babysitters. That’s what makes it a complementary currency instead of an alternative, central currency, it’s something that happens around the edges of the existing system, but that can fill some really critical human needs at the same time.

Commercial barter systems, of course, the system in Switzerland, the WIR system is very successful. That started at the end of the Depression back in the 1930’s, so it’s been in place now for over 80 years, and it’s a lot of the reason that the Swiss economy is as successful as it is because it actually has two currencies that they use.

One is this WIR, which is the commercial barter currency that’s denominated in francs, but it isn’t Swiss Francs and the other is the Swiss Franc, you know? So economic studies have been done on it and showed that when the economy goes down, the use of the WIR goes up. And when the economy does better, the use of the WIR goes down.

So it serves as a counter cyclical balance to the crazy business cycle that the monetary system in the markets have us in, and there’s zillions of examples like that all over the world, like for example, there’s a really cool dual currency system called the nayahan banjar, which is a neighborhood caring system that people use for their ceremonial things and their community celebration events like weddings and funerals and other things that, that you’re expected to serve in the Banjar, which is the group for the neighborhood club, to prepare for those events. And if you don’t, nobody comes to your funeral either.

There was actually a story of a rich guy in Bali who who’d been in the hotel business or something, and he never had time for the little neighborhood stuff. And when he died, nobody came to his. I mean, that’s a pretty strong statement about the power of that currency. He was a very wealthy man. Can you imagine in the United States having a very wealthy man dying, nobody shows up for the funeral.

It’s like unheard of. So there’s lots of those examples. And of course that Bali example is from a long time ago. It’s been in place for millennia, I think. It’s not something new like time banks. Time banks are pretty new. and. cryptocurrency, of course, is an sort of an alternative monetary system, but it’s linked so strongly to the current system that you can’t really call it a complementary or an alternative currency.

You have to have a bank account to get it. It’s artificially scarce just like the existing monetary system is. So it’s more of a payment vehicle really than it is another form of money. Although I think the promise that blockchain offers us and the decentralization of accounting and accountability is really promising.

I mean, that’s a disruptive technology for sure, but it hasn’t been used to its full potential yet.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, so you’re talking, what occurs to me, and I, this is not a Debbie Downer statement, it’s sort of like I’m looking at a systems view here and, and you mentioned cryptocurrency. We’re right in the middle of that implosion of the major, major player taking down at least one other major player.

I mean, some multi=billions of dollars gone. Gone. Just gone.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: So you know that happens with bank crashes too. That happens with bank crashes too.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Poof. It’s like, and it’s these where you realize that we’re living in a fabricated set of structures and that they’re, they’re not guaranteed at the edges.

There’s experiments going on and you can participate at the edges and you make out, make out like a bandit and you could crash and burn. But what I’m noticing and what you’re talking about, because I have many examples of like little local currencies, crashing, burning, like people work for two years to get it up and running and it fizzles in like six months.

But so do you see this as, as sort of the necessary churn around the edges? Do you see these like local failures of small things that got smaller. Is this like, like humanity learning how to do it differently? I mean, it just occurs to me as I, as I think about it, I just read something this morning about like, oh, now electric vehicles are gonna be cheap.

It’s gonna be like, little figurines in a crackerjacks box, you know? And I was an early adopter 10 years ago and I got one of the first electric cars, and it went like 60 miles. And, and so it’s, it’s like these, these innovations are sort of useless artifacts until suddenly they’re not.

You know what I mean? It’s like some experiments are gonna take off and some are gonna be like just failed experiments that we learned from. How do you read that, that sort of edge of like coming into being and dying, coming into being this sort of creative edge. How do you read.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Well, if you look at another major transition that happened in the economy about 400, 500 years ago between feudalism and capitalism, that’s a place to take some lessons from because that didn’t just, that wasn’t just born out of whole cloth.

And so when I’m talking about historians seeing this is the end of capitalism and the beginning of something that I’m hoping is the caring economy, the economy with care and hope and love at the center of it instead of profit, and competition and all the other things that come with that. there were lots of little experiments then too,  people starting up little businesses, people trying to sell things on the street corner as the clearances drove people off the land.

My ancestors came to this continent because of the Highland Clearances in Scotland. So, it was a big transition. There was a big grab of more power, more land by the elite. Can we compare that to current times, the big power grabs because they could, and the system encouraged it. I think most of the people that get into power these days are textbook sociopaths because in order to succeed in this crazy economy, you have to be horrible to other people. You know, look at what’s going on in, the most  public case of that with Elon Musk and his Twitter takeover and firing half the employees and demanding that the other employees work twice as hard.

It’s just, that’s not a nice thing to do. That’s not kind and loving and and hopeful. What happened then is you had this big displacement and people had to sort of pull themselves up by their bootstraps, try new things. Often those new things didn’t succeed, but eventually they did, and, and we had urbanization and, and the concentration of capital that transformed the economy.

If you look at the value of land as a portion of GDP back then, let’s say in the 16oos, early 1700s, it was very high. It was a huge part of GDP. It came down to almost nothing today. Well, what we might be looking at in the future is that the value of all the things that we think of is so important in the economy now will also see a significant change in relationship to the entire economy, partially through the acknowledgment of the fact that there’s a lot of the economy that we don’t currently count in GDP. The metrics are another lever in the system to change it.  They’re the least powerful one of the five that I’ve identified, but they’re still an important one.

And when GDP doesn’t include, for example, toilet training the children. Right? You know, how much money do you think it would cost to toilet train a child if you had to buy it in the market? Or feeding the family, or all the things that have been in the purview of the women’s side of things down through time.

All of those are excluded from GDP, but they’re a part of a core economy, that core caring economy that we all need to survive. You wouldn’t be a successful businessman if you’d never been toilet trained.

Vicki Robin: It’s a really interesting conversation. So you said this, it’s one of the five levers. So, why don’t we just like do the levers so that we have the picture of what you’re thinking.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: All of the economic structures that we sort of live in this economic box. That’s one way I tell the story.

The other one is that we live in an economic box and that box is structured out of a bunch of different laws and  customs. Human created things that we’ve all tacitly agreed to most of the time without even knowing. The top lever is ownership, the culture of ownership, the legal structures around ownership, the amount of ownership that you’re allowed to extend into the outside world, all of that is the highest lever point in in the economic box.

The second, and it’s a close second, is money. The monetary system is a human invention. It’s not a naturally occurring thing. People seem to think, oh, you can’t change that. And Oh yeah, you can. In fact, they changed it in our lifetime a couple times. So, the change that happened in the seventies was earth shaking in Canada up until the early seventies.

The National Bank was a public bank. They built the St. Lawrence Seaway. They implemented public healthcare. They did all these great large publicly funded projects with what was effectively public money. But in the seventies when the Bank of International Settlements imposed all these rules and other new conventions on things, when Nixon took us off the Bretton Woods system, essentially, then everything changed.

And we, we, we went from what was sort of a kind of sort of gold based economy, at least there was some remnants of that economy in place then, to a debt based economy that happened in the early seventies. I was alive then. I wasn’t an adult and interacting with the world. But it was a huge change, huge change to the system and most of us, most of the people that were living back then, we still think something’s based on gold.

We don’t understand that it’s based on debt then that makes a whole, it turns the whole system kind of upside down, in Canada. When that happened, they went from having zero national debt to now, the debt curve grew exponentially as it shifted from being public money, which is money that the public creates essentially for things the public wants, to a private finance system, which essentially oppose imposes this hidden interest tax on everything that we own and buy. My colleague Margaret Kennedy, may she rest in peace, did a study in Germany of the hidden tax of this financial system on the German economy and the hidden tax for housing was up to 70% of the cost of the housing, right?

The lowest one was the solid waste hidden tax, and that was about 25% because a lot of the solid waste doesn’t have to finance the big things that housing does un Germany anyway. I’d be really interested to see a similar study in North America because I think that hidden tax would be much, much higher.

We pay a lot more for our public services and our public goods, goods like bridges, roads, hospitals, schools, because of the role of private finance in that. And, so that system can change. It’s also very, very important for making a transformation.

And then the other three of the ones we’re kind of familiar with we’re told, oh, the market, hat’s the most important thing. It’s actually the third thing that, and the third in line in terms of powerful leverage points for changing the economy. But how do we change the markets? We, we mandate organic food. Organic. The organic food regulation system changed the market and made now organic food a lot more readily available to all of us.

We outlaw GMOs or we require at least them to put, to put labels on the food saying this is a genetically modified organism, mm-hmm, and you don’t buy it. That’s a market modification that works in our favor. There’s plenty of them that work against us, you know? And, and we’ve sort of, we’re asleep at the wheel, I think as a people, because we’ve allowed these huge monopolistic markets to be created like oh, in computer software, for example, , where a couple people own the entire system, that’s crazy. There may be some sense in standardization, but that doesn’t mean somebody has to have monopoly control over it. Exactly.

Yeah. and then management, now management is the m that, includes all the stuff like socially responsible practices and ecological bottom lines and multiple bottom line accounting.

It has failed. That idea has mostly failed. Not that it isn’t good for individual companies or individual circumstances, but it hasn’t slowed the rate of climate change and it hasn’t slowed the rate of biodiversity destruction. It’s, we’re still heading for an incredible crash. And then metrics as the last one.

We measure things with GDP. We care about happiness or wellbeing. But happiness and wellbeing is actually what we should be measuring instead of just productivity. Because you know, when the Valdez sank in the Arctic, GDP went up, but because all these people were paid to go and wash birds off and clean the beaches and everything else, that went with that huge environmental disaster.

But that didn’t make anybody better off. So the, the other thing I think that really the kind of technological logic that we see now, like Amazon laying off thousands of employees and replacing them with robots plus the pandemic,  is this idea of universal basic income. Universal basic income would totally change the system because people wouldn’t necessarily have to work to ward off starvation and penury right? They could have a basic income to meet their basic needs, and then the work they could do would be the kind of work they love to do to reach their human potential to, actually make a positive contribution to the world. So I think there’s a lot of things.

That’s a seed that’s being watered in Finland. Finland has experimented with basic income. There’s a number of cities around the country that are experimenting with basic income in Ireland. They gave artists a basic income to see if that would help with the creative economy. So that’s another thing that could actually be really a positive development as it gets more widely adopted.

And I’m sorry, but when you’re looking at what happened during the pandemic with either the PUAP system, that the US rolled out, which is nowhere near as good as what they did in Canada. They just basically replaced people’s income for some time with these, these basic payments as they had to stay home and keep safe during the pandemic.

So we’ve had a real taste of what universal basic income looks like, and now as I’m retired and getting a pension and social security, I can attest to the fact that it’s fantastic. I don’t live high on the hog. I mean, I’m not rich, but I don’t have to worry anymore about finding some kind of soul destroying job to, to stay alive.

And, and that might be one of the features of capitalism that we will miss the least, right?

Vicki Robin: Well now you’re over in the narrative that I was, I’ve been part of for so many years, which is, basically if it’s the owners of wealth who actually can, can buy leisure for themselves, then transferring from being a wage earner to an owner of wealth is, is a strategy for the ordinary person to buy themselves some breathing room.

And that’s really what Your Money or Your Life is about. That’s part of the mechanics of what was being promoted is like, I used to say I buy my freedom with my frugality every day. The the less money I spend, the more I have, the longer it lasts. Just like things like that.

It sort of like the, the little guy fights back, but fights back with the tools of capitalism somehow, you know? So I’ve engineered in my own life, a life in which I didn’t have to work for money. And it sounds like, people can go off and see my other work, if they’re interested, but I’ve thought about that, about the universal basic income, and I had an idea that I’ve pitched to people.

I’m just gonna pitch it to you, which is that if it were coupled with universal service, in other words, if your lifetime of a stipend, a monthly stipend were coupled to a year and a half of public service. At whatever point in your life you do that, you could do it when you’re 15, you can do it when you’re 50.

Then it starts to crank out that basic sort of foundational, you will not starve regular deposit into your bank account and the universal service can be, it can be military, but it could be interning with a non-profit organization. It’s, it could be anything, but you all come together for three months of basic training, which is not just running around tracks, but, but three months of basic training of basically adulting,lLike all the things that you never learned about how to adult.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: A lot of things in Europe run on that public service requirement. Like I lived in a eco- village there, well, an intentional community there called Botton Village for a while, and a lot of their people that ran that place were doing their service, they were doing their universal service from all over Europe. So really? Yeah. And we, we have AmeriCorps and Vista here that is a little bit like that, but it’s not mandatory and it’s not as big as it is in Europe. In Europe, you have to do public service, either in the military or civil service for, I think it’s two years.

And it runs a lot of the charitable stuff that goes on over there. It runs a lot of the alternative things that are happening, that was in England.

Vicki Robin: If you link it to basic income, then you realize that you don’t have to give a basic income to everyone, only to the people who’ve chosen to enter into that service system.

So there will be people who say, who blow it off and go, I don’t need that. I’m gonna go be a banker. I’m just saying that…

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: How do we, because well, I also think that that that part of the universal basic income conversation could be around in what kind of money, because one of the big concerns of course, with basic income would be it would put all this new money chasing fewer and fewer goods into the system and driving inflation like we’re seeing now.

If you didn’t have this one form of monopoly money that had to do everything, but you had a food currency and an energy or carbon currency and you had a creative currency or a data currency, and you had a business currency, and people would get like five, not hundreds, not unmanageable amount, but just a little ecosystem of money, then you wouldn’t be risking the kinds of other disruptions that that might cause.

And so, there you could earn more of whatever it was by being frugal. You could earn carbon currency by biking to work. You could earn carbon currency by taking a bus. You could do all sorts of things that, cut down your ecological footprint and get paid for it. You could earn carbon currency for regenerative agriculture, which by the way, is one of the most critical things we should be investing in right now if we really wanna last longer than the next 50 years on the planet.

Vicki Robin: Exactly. This is like your number two on your list, ownership. If we could like, like return the commond to the commond. That would just, that would be the total game changer.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Limit what individuals can own. I mean, I think that that like this, these sort of giant sized individuals we get that are just as crazy as the next person, less educated sometimes than the next, right?

That then can own vast quantities of the productive capacity of our planet. That’s somehow out of balance and wrong. I think there needs to be limits. I don’t think that private ownership is a bad idea for your house and your garden. The things that I need. People are afraid of being taken away. No, individuals can own stuff, but they can’t own other people’s means of survival.

Vicki Robin: That’s an interesting conversation. And where does that conversation land? Who gets to say, I mean, this is also, now we’re getting to this edge thing. All the beautiful things that are occurring on the edges.

Give me an example of where you see these brilliant ideas actually landing in policy so that things are changing.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Okay, well, the community land trust model, we were talking about that earlier. I set, I started this Eco Village in Vermont using that model, and people in the Eco Village own the little place that their home site was built on, so they own their home and they own the little piece of land their home was built on.

But the rest of the land in the eco village was shared cooperatively and we had, anytime you wanted to do something in the community land, you had to engage the community to do it. That’s an example of subsidiary. Subsidiary meaning, the level of impact of a particular action should reflect, should be participatory with the stakeholders who are participating in that impact. So if something impacts you, you should have a voice in what happens there. And the principle of severity was one of the key principles of the Earth Charter. Remember the Earth Charter?

Vicki Robin: I do remember the Earth Charter. Boy, That was a time that we thought really good things could change, huh?

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: And it is used in some European countries now as a, as a policy mechanism as is, the, what’s the other one I really liked outta the Earth Charter, Agenda 21. Well, Agenda 21 came out of the Earth Summit, and it was sort of the panoply of things that we needed to do to, to change the earth. And then there was Local Agenda 21, which was really about what we can do in local communities.

And that turned into a lot of places. Just like, okay, we’re gonna have recycling program. I mean, well we needed recycling programs back then, back when, and everything went in the trash, and people were not open to that at all. So, but no, the, the other one, there’s the subsidiary principle, which, which basically says the level of impact should be the level of decision making, right?

And also, oh, the precautionary principle. Right? If you’re proposing something new, you should prove that it’s not harmful, rather than leaving it up to all the people that are impacted by it to prove that it is harmful before you can put it on the market. And that also has traction in Europe, in the environmental regulations in Europe.

When we look at at planning and municipal planning and policy, usually the local community in the United States has say over what happens in its borders and if there’s a development with the regional impact, DRI it’s called a Massachusetts. There’s lots of terms for it. Then that gets bumped up to the regional government, and the regional government has to have a say in it if it’s gonna impact more than one municipality.

In some places, it’s not true everywhere, but that is an example of subsidiary at work. And, and also, ownership in a way because the ownership of the permitting process, the ownership of, of the kinds of things you need to do before you even have a business that locates somewhere, fundamentally is a public function.

And so, we need to exercise our citizen rights to make sure that those things, work well. Right?

Vicki Robin: Ergo we just were talking right after the 2022 midterm election. And so some of those results are gonna actually impact how many of these innovations at the edge will actually get, become more central to our choices.

Yeah. We’re in the middle of the muddle. That’s what I’m hearing from you, because you’re one of the people who knows the best. All of this sort of like the mechanisms at the, in the borderlands of, of the possible, you know a lot of things about money, economy, ownership, regulations. You know a lot about this and you’ve been tracking it.

And what I’m seeing as I listen to you is that we are just going to live in this, this sort of fertile and frightening time. For the next like probably two or three decades, whereas so many things hang in the balance and that the pressure of things hanging in the balance is going to push some of these innovations to the fore.

There’s gonna be places where we didn’t realize we needed to pay attention to and then we have to like play, hurry up. But in a way, living through this time, is going to, it’s gonna be like the most demanding, creative act any of us have ever undertaken. It’s not theory, it’s now practice and there’s lots of things that are available to us.

There’s lots of paint pots out there. It’s reduced to this stupid polarization between like, oh, the Republicans and the Democrats that’s relevant to the fertility of what we’re living in.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Yeah, I think we should abolish the private party system myself. I think it’s done more harm than good, but that’s another conversation.

And I think it’s also a symptom of the times. You get more polarized when you get into crises and we’re in on any number of different crises and the polarization is both a product of the existing system trying to continue just the way it is. There’s a lot of companies that wanna keep business as usual, just the way it is.

They wanna keep producing that oil, just the way they always produce it. They wanna produce those products, just the way they always produce it. People are really resistant to change. When the world is crashing and burning around them, they’re gonna try and push the people off the land and enclose more of it right? They’re gonna try to take over the commons. They’re gonna do more and, and that’s the kind of thing that’s gonna bring about change. I think because people aren’t gonna be able to tolerate it anymore. And, I talk to people of all political stripes from all over the place, and there’s a widespread recognition that things aren’t working well.

I think there’s a lot of blaming going on, it’s all their fault or it’s all their fault. That’s an easy thing to do when things are going awry. We need to look within, we need to also build our community structures, because that’s the other thing I see is what could possibly go right, is that in the future, this great caring economy, I imagine we’re heading for in my best dreams is a community based economy.

The little pot of people I built at Headwaters, which is eight households. It’s not huge, but that community is different than a family. And these little communities that we can build on and, and interact with as a community, I think are the future of the planet because frankly, the future of the planet also depends on us going back to growing more of our own food.

I know you’re totally in touch with this and you grow food for your whole neighborhood, which is fantastic. And that’s what we were doing. We were growing food for the whole neighborhood and we were all the whole neighborhood. It’s hard to grow food. People think they can just go out and stick some seeds in the ground and, no, it’s hard.

I struggled for 10 years learning how to grow garlic, how to grow this and how just changing my whole idea about what it means to grow food. But if everybody, if everybody somehow could go back to growing some of their own food in an organic way, that could turn climate change around. Over 40% of the emissions that cause the problem in climate change are related to the food system.

So we need to, we need to change the food system that’s right up there, food, energy and money are three of, they’re all, they’re all flows if you think about it. All those things flow through the economy. Totally. And the way they come into existence and the way they go out of existence are a lot of the problems with the economy.

Vicki Robin: Maybe in the show notes, you’re gonna give us links to all the public education that you’ve done. You’re a fabulous educator about these large system flows and these sort of, innovations at the margins and the common sense things in the caring economy. It’s like I can see the whole moving picture now and it what it, I think it’s gonna take for me and all of us, is basically to stay, if not in our best selves, at least our better selves, looking at the possibilities that are emerging and giving things a try and, and as you say, boosting others who are giving other things a try, not just being little, like heroic one trick ponies.

I don’t feel exactly hopeful talking to you, but I feel almost excited we’re gonna be in the middle of this grind. I know it sounds so wrong to say I’m excited because there’s gonna be so much suffering, but I think we all, anybody with a little margin of safety in their lives has an opportunity to stay awake, pay attention, ask questions. And tilt the boat one direction or another.

I mean, really, it’s like a little margin of safety and security in your own life so that you can tie that to paying attention to the commons.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Right. And building community. Building community. I think anybody can do that, you know? Exactly. It’s hard to make those networks and connections and feel so alone and isolated.

Because that’s where fear comes from. That’s where a lot of the disruption comes from. People that are alone and isolated are gonna turn to like more consumption to fill those empty holes. And we don’t need exactly more consumption. No, we don’t need more successful people. We need people that care for others.

We need to have strong community bonds and strong, connections with each other and, and the natural world. I spend a couple hours every day outside if I can just to be outdoors and to be in nature, because that’s just so important for our humanity. It’s, and yet there’s lots of people in the world that don’t and they’re suffering, I think.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, lots. Anyway, we’re gonna need to wind this up, so I hope in our show notes that we can get more of your videos, audios, articles, whatever, so that people can, can, benefit from all you’ve done over oh, so many years.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: And the song.

Vicki Robin: Oh, right. And the song. Yes, yes. Gwen has a song and we’re gonna put it someplace on this. Thank you so much, Gwen. It’s so inspiring to talk with you, an upbeat person talking about downbeat stuff, but in a way that sort of exudes possibility. So thank you. Thank you, thank you.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith: Oh, thank you. This has been a lot of fun and great to see you again.


Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin is a prolific social innovator, writer, speaker, and host of the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast. She is coauthor with Joe Dominguez of the international best-seller, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin, 1992, 1998, 2008, 2018). And author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking Penguin, 2013), which recounts her adventures in hyper-local eating and what she learned about food, farming, belonging, and hope. Vicki has lectured widely and appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” and “Morning Edition.” She has also been featured in hundreds of magazines including People Magazine, AARP, The Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Utne Magazine, and the New York Times. She currently lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and is active in her community on a range of social and environmental issues including affordable housing, local food, and community investing. For fun, she is a comedy improv actress, sings in a choir, gardens, and nurtures a diverse circle of friends.

Tags: building resilient communities, caring economy