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Alternative Monetary and Economic Systems (AEMS) Summer School 2016

Our economic system is the main driver for the environmental and social challenges and the rapid global changes we face today. Julia Marx took part in the International Summer School on Alternative Monetary and Economic Systems, from the 25th of July till the 14th of August 2016 in Vienna, because she thinks economy is an essential factor of Global Change Ecology.

The school was organized by the Universität für Bodenkultur, the Economy for the Common Good and the OEAD. The participants were an interdisciplinary group of 50 students from over 30 countries. The slogan of the school was "There is no alternative for alternatives" as a response to the often defended opinion that we have to go on as we do because there would be no alternatives. The school provided a big repertoire of socioecological solutions with a profound analysis about what is going wrong in our current system.

The Summer School addressed the question why our current economic system is not functioning as it should and why it is unable to explain the vast amount of economic crises and the growing inequality. The inputs were given by lecturers from universities, cooperatives, organizations and banks dealing with sustainable economics.

Understanding the problem

The main purpose of the problem-oriented part was to understand the systemic nature of the problem we are facing. We had a close look on the historical background of economic theory and dealt with different schools of economic thought, in order to understand how social and environmental issues got excluded from the economical thinking. We analyzed the reasons for the financial crises and the intrinsic instability of our financial system by looking at the wrong assumptions underlying neoliberal theories, such as that markets are perfect. We analyzed how growth and short-term thinking are implemented as compulsory within the system, built in with the interest feature, and what consequences this has on ecological systems. Some lectures focused on power structures and on the democracy crisis stemming from financial crisis, as well as the problems of a monetary monoculture.

Introducing solutions

The central question of the solution- orientated part was: What is our leeway? The alternatives we discussed in lectures, panels, discussions, group games and workshops were all trying to consider natural boundaries and the human factor as parts of the economic equation. They ranged from the reform or re-definition of money, an overhaul of the aim of economic activity towards solidarity and cooperation, tax reform, a reform of financial markets and institutions, up to a change in consumer culture: Economy for the common good, Solidarity economy, Cooperatives, Sovereign Money, Alternative Banking, Complementary Alternative Currencies, Post growth Theories such as Steady State Economics or De-growth and Civic Food Networks.

The key here is to measure success other than by money, to bring back values to our economy and society, and to change the role of money, from being a goal to being a mean to reach ecological sustainability and social equality goals.

We discussed the presented theories and had practical sessions to reflect on how these can be implemented in our local contexts. We prepared a poster of a project in our town and developed it further with inputs we got throughout the school. Since I participate at the Transition House in Bayreuth, a roof organization for many sharing economy based projects, I reflected on the role these sharing economies play and could as an alternative complementary currency.

I am very happy that I visited this summer school, as I learnt a lot about the workings of our economic system, its paradoxes and why there are so many strains on ecological and social boundaries. It is a tough program with many inputs and content- intense evening events, e.g. public podium discussions or documentary movie nights. The inputs were extraordinary, the organization was very good and mind-blowing insights that will change the way you look at the world. I strongly recommend this school to everyone.

Text and picture: Julia Marx

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