Monday, 15 August 2016

Fundraising campaign for STUDIO89''s Youth Led Community bistro

TorontotheBetter recently donated books to support Studio89's pioneering arts and culture bistro in Mississauga. See our directory listening for Studio89 at

Friday, 5 August 2016

Campaign for a Social Economy Commons - Here and Now, as the World Social Forum comes to Montreal,Canada.

The World Social Forum/[]/ForumSocial Mondial []  is now opening in Montreal with the slogan 
"Another world is needed, together it's possible"

The graphic below shows the the animating spirit behind the several previous social forums since the first in Brazil in 2001 -   
With the world more connected than ever before, the example of the Internet as a working global communications commons  and with the pursuit of narrow private interest more clearly counter productive than ever before, the time is more right than ever for economic systems based on partnership and collaboration. There are, of course, many such systems already in action, though largely "alternative" or subsidiary to mainstream economies governed by the the economic principle of rational self-interest.

The problem is that in the twenty first century self-interest is not so  rational. Contrary to a famous/infamous paper written by Garrett Hardin in 1968 it now appears to many that it is not the commons that is tragic but its "un-commons" counterpoint. Just as we cannot allow self-interest to ravage the environment we cannot allow economic inequalities to impoverish many for the benefit of a few. Things can't work that way any more. It is by collaborating and co-operating that the world has progressed to whatever degree of  peaceful coexistence we have been able to achivee, even if it took the lunacy of world wars to make the point to much of the world.      

The following may read as an argument for evolutionary change, but it's not. Few revolutionary changes of the kind the current economic system seems to require, especially after its latest breakdown in 2008, arise out of no pevous process; nor can they. Life, aka living things, don't work that way; what disruptive change arise from are multiple  processes that at some point converge in radical breakage. What we describe below is a key economic change process that is ncessary for the construction of  a genuinely social economy that serves all who live in it and by it. For the needed change to occur the private sector, still the largest economic sector in most developed mixed economies must change to practice sustainability, worker empowerment and community partnership (the values celebrated by TorontotheBetter since we started our directory in 2004), whether the agent of that change comes from within or without. And when it does it will do so not because it's right, or is forced to, but because to do so works better than the alternative.    
Historically, since the advent of the industrial age in the nineteenth century the reformist approach to remedy the destructive consequences of the market system has been largely through government regulation, such as occupational health and safety standards. That there are more revolutionary approaches, sometimes effective, but sometimes not, will be the subject of another post, as will the issue of Evolution becoming Revolution.

Though, after political struggle by workers and their unions, reform has achieved definite improvements in citizens’ lives, there is no guarantee of success and there is always resistance in the democratic process as regulations must be at least somewhat acceptable to the economic interests that will be regulated. Furthermore, most regulatory mechanisms in the liberal market democracies most common now in the developed world are reactive, not proactive; that is, harms are addressed only after they have been executed. 

And now after yet another mainstream economic collapse in 2008 more and more are looking for economic systems that avoid the recession/depression problems by which  market economies have been plagued throughout history. Such approaches are diverse and no one method has triumphed, the lesson of biodiversity can be a guide and a  general commitment to benefit for all our creed. We call this the social economy way.  

Since prevention is always better than cure arguably a better way of achieving benefits for citizens is to get organizations to do the right thing before they get habituated to bad ones.  this is where the still largely subsidiary and “alternative” social economy of organizations dedicated to social benefits through their economic activities is so important. They serve as a model for society as a whole by demonstrating that enterprises embodying, for example, workplace democracy, sustainable business practice and/or community collaboration. There are many examples of such enterprises, who, of course, differ in their emphases but make the general point that enterprise can coexist with social benefit. And it is to celebrate and promote such that TorontotheBetter was created. Our network of enterprises has grown from single digits in 2004 to several hundred now.

Our challenge now is to work to make what is commonly conceived as an “alternative” to standard business practice the norm. And since private enterprise is still the biggest sector in the economy it is here where the most benefits for workers and society can be achieved. This is why we have created the Alliance for Toronto’ Social Economy [ATSE].   It is free and open, and we invite membership and donations of any kind to the campaign. To join send an email to with ATSE in the subject line. A social economy means a better Toronto and a better Toronto is better for all. it is true tht a campaign by stealth to infuse private ownership with public goals is less satisfactory than comprehensive replacement the perfect should notbe the enemy of the good, which, as now, when the mainstream falters, will win more converts  on the road to the  primary goal: an economy that works for all, not just a few.                

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Towards a better world through jobs with meaning

Recent horrors in which young people take out their frustrations through violence against unknown others underline the importance of what Victor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning. Offered a future reduced in the mainstream to making, selling and buying consumer goods, many of them worthless,  and a race for the jobs so required  it should come as no surprise if some pursue seemingly more “meaningful” vocations, including religious apotheosis. Is it farfetched to believe that economic lives grounded on serious social benefuts might reduce somewhat a sense of emptiness in contrast to which religious fundamentalism seems both more important and responsible.  A social economy, with jobs built on values could do something to alleviate the growing sense of meaninglessness engendered by consumer lives. And yes, there is more to mass shootings than the bad jobs of perpetrators, but no-one should ignore the effect of perceived meaninglessness on the its subjects.    

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Really Really Important Free "Market" in Toronto's west end

As yet small, but gowing... TorontotheBetter is pleased to welcome the Reallly Really Free Market [RRFM} at Campbell Park near Lansdowne and Bloor to Toronto's growing social economy commons. On Saturday June 3, TorontotheBetter colleagues contributed books and magazines and in return found some interesting clothing. Fed up with mainstream getting and spending? As well  as social enterprises there are now no-money options like RRFM. More and more are rejecting the Austerity mindsset that has plagued economies worldwide for over 20 years. Another economy is possible! Join us and our allies to build it.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

NOW Toronto, the "Trading Economy" and the New Commons - The Post-Occupy economy:Part 2

Perhaps in part as moral sanctification for its own ad-crowded "FREE NEWSPAPER" model, now almost universal in  the industry, Toronto's NOW Magazine, ever in search of a cool trend, in its May 26 2016 issue devoted its front page to what it calls the new trading economy. For all the compromises NOW, as a news magazine, must engage in in 2016, this recognition of emergent, let's call them "para-capitalist" economic trends  is important. A sizable portion of the population in all countries is now made up of 20-something  millenials with the baggage of high expectations, stay-in-school parental messaging and precarious employment. Ignoring the independent demographic variable of a large baby-boom generation dominating jobs still, the reality behind what is a substantive economic transformation, albeit a still "alternative" and largely sub-cultural one, is global economic inequality. The 2008 financial meltdown, its subsequent reactive Occcupy movement and lingering eocnomic inertia are evidence of the base behind the sociocultural superstructure TorontotheBetter and NOW are highlighting.

** How far we have come: with Canada's out of time former prime minister Stephen Harper, and now, thankfully, out of place, it is worth noting that TorontotheBetter began online in 2004 in an era of triumphalist neo-liberalism to make the point that economic models based on solidarity values, rather than "rational" individual self-interest, were both realistic and real. In 2016 the whole edifice of neoliberalism is under theoretical onslaught and some of its outlying stuctures are crumbling. Multiple collective forms, be they co-operatives, "benefit corporations" or online exchange fora, germinate and grow, accelerated by the key technological catalyst that is the World Wide Web. What is emerging is what TorontotheBetter sees as a new commons in which, as in the medieval version all "commoners" can contribute and beneft. That the venerable public library, as rightly featured in Carla Gillis' "Sharing Is Caring" section in Now, can vanguard this new economy is only one startling trend likely unnoticed by many in Canada's political and economic elites. In fact it was possibly prescient that one of  Toronto's municipal Ford clan took on public libraries as a threat to his Toronto. To point out that TorontotheBetter itself came from a co-operative with many of its occuppational roots in libraries could be seen as rubbing it in, but sometimes there is no alternative.              

All "new's" are usually of course "old's" too, and the barter, gift, and no-money behaviours of many of today's young (motivated, as in all  previous versons of the phenomenon by necessity), as cited in Now's article appeared in the multiple depressions, including the Great one of the last century. So there is a fair amount of same old in this new, but the whole here is in fact greater than  the parts. Together these trends point to a societal evolution that is puttting practical flesh to  what has been up until recently a preserve of conceptual futurists. This is the evolution from the private property dominated economy empowered by the land enclosures of the late 18th century to a post-private economy model, in which collective ownership is understood by increasing numbers, irrespective of their ideogical launch position, as more productive than its now increasingly outmoded, because narrow, predecessor. This is what Paul  Mason in an important recent overview published in 2015 calls "Post-capitalism" [to be reviewed in this space in future weeks]. Copies of his book may be purchased from TorontotheBetter for a respectable discount from the $31.50 list price - by emailing with "postcapitaism" in the subject line..

NOTE TO READERS: We are not fiully beyond old style trading yet, though at our discretion we will accept goods and/or ideas as well as money in this case. For the  record TorontotheBetter's book sales division offers discounts comparable to Amazon, but unlike that, yes "amazon" we are a locally based unionized worker co-op, so your feel good/do good factor should be higher than if you succumb to Amazon.                        

Friday, 20 May 2016

On Uber: How sharing is "the sharing economy"? - The Post-Occupy economy:Part 1

With the last most serious for a long, long time collapse of the mainstream economy in 2008, from which societies around the world have still not recovered, a whole set of alternative economic models once again (few of these are genuinely new) have been judged worthy of public discussion and in some cases behaviourally implemented. One such change idea addresses that most iconic pillar of North American adulthood: the privately owned, and used, car. 

In 2016 carsharing" has become an increasingly prominent fact of life in many cties. The young, in particular, for a variety of reasons including financial (limited budgets) and cultural (the relative unimportance to many millennials of cars compared to smartphones), are making personal automobile ownership a deferred option rather than an adolescent rite/right. In the meantime young professionals, and many others in inner cities, where car ownership is increasingly fraught, are exploring alternatives. Biking has returned as a viable personal travel mode for some. Sharing cars is another. And there we find two versions - what we may call "sharing cars" (e.g. Uber) and carsharing as in Community Carshare, Kitchener based Ontrario's first, in 1998, Commun-Auto, the equivalent in Quebec, and many others around the world.   
Image result for carsharing

The Uber taxi application has recently been prominent in injecting this  topic into media attention. But Uber is being increasingly referred to as an example of the so-called "sharing economy" that has emerged since the Great Recession of 2008. It can  be argued that Uber is an example of a less wasteful economy, since data show that most private automobiles spend most of their time idle in parking lots or garages and even when driven cover less than 2 kilometers per trip. Why not make cars available to others at times when it would otherwise be idle?  

Well, if environmental concerns are key priorities at this time, then it may be that the car does more social good by being driven less, not more. And since Uber drivers are being paid for driving then arguably the Uber application adds to pollution by motivating more use.  For the same reason the use of the word "sharing" to describe Uber, is, if not consciously misleading, then definitely inaccurate. What is happening with Uber is in fact private care rental, not sharing at all, and therefore Uber represents nothing new or progressive in addressing our polluted and individualistic North American culture.

But if Uber is not the answer to anything there is another option that is genuinely creative and proigressive. It's called "carsharing" and it is growing dramatically in Ontario and elsewhere since it emerged as a non-profit co-operative in Kitchener-Waterloo in 1998. Carsharing requires a community group who commit to using a number of in common cars in their neighbourhood on a more or less occasional basis. They pay a membership fee and adopt a governance model for managing the fleet. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, others, like Community Carshare, are not. Some, again like  Community Carshare, are co-operatives, and some, like Autoshare in Toronto, are not. Some, like the now worldwide Zipcars, are corporate for profit businesses, others are not. What they have in common is the provision of car use convenience at a time when traditional models of private ownership are more and more challenged. What potential users should reflect on before becoming carsharers is what form of carsharing contributes to a better society for all. At least one of the primary original  benefits of carsharing has is to reduce the number of cars on our roads, and thus to reduce the toll in injury, death and pollution that accompany car  use. But there are  others, like community development, social solidarity, respect and conservation,

Based on the values they represent, TorontotheBetter has invited some, but not all, area car sharing organizations, to join us since early in our existence, 10 years ago. Most 21st century lives require car use from time to time, Carsharing, has at least made the way we use the car an open question for a increasing numbers of citizens. 

PLEASE NOTE: in the interests of full disclosure the writer of this post was formerly a member of the board of People's Car, now Community Carshare, of which he is a member, but currently has no position in , or derives any financial benefit, thereby. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Rana Plaza Disaster Remembered - global day of action on May 3. But does Toronto care?

3 years ago hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers were killed or injured when the factory they worked at collapsed on top of them. Canadian organizations were contractors with the Rana Plaza factory. 3 Years have passed since then, but it's worth asking if life has improved for garment workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere. The answer, unfortunately, is not very much. And although many cities around the world will participate in a global day of action on May 3rd so far Toronto is not among them, it seems. To  demand change join the Demand Safe Factories Now! campaign at any H&M store near you.See  to get involved. In solidarity with garment and all workers everywhere TorontotheBetter calls for more than concern and ritual regrets. The still new Canadian government and others globally must act where previous administrations have not.