Friday, 31 August 2018

Affordable co-operative handy-person services available

Affordable co-operative handy-person services available                                                                                                Yes, we all live by knowledge in the 21st  century, and in some  was always have, but we are still in a material world and, like people, things go wrong or under-perform and have to be repaired or fixed up. As a long time worker co-op, and creator of TorontotheBetter, Toronto’s first online social economy hub, at Libra we are pleased to offer the services of a new member of our co-op who brings practical handy-person services for individuals and social enterprises, including co-operatives, non-profits and other community businesses. We offer painting, carpentry, drywalling , and small scale landscaping, done conscientiously and affordably. And your money will go to Libra, a 15-year old social economy enterprise (a unionized Toronto based worker co-op) rather than to a for-profit business. Not everybody has access to a repair cafĂ© in their neighbourhood, so for more information and/or to request a price quotation send return email or call Libra at 416-707-3509

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Blockchain and economic sharing

Blockchain is a technology that extends interpersonal electronic interactions from simple communications to real world and real time administrative functions like financial accounting. All transactions in a blockchain are instantaneously available to all in the network. As for Bitcoin, a Blockchain spin-off, there is rich geek-fad potential here, but the real question is that, given the availability of an enabling technology like Blockchain, can a "truly, deeply, passionately' shared economics be long in coming? Increasing numbers of people around the world now recognise that the rational self-seeking "homo economicus" constructed hundreds of years ago by proto-economists is not the last word in human understanding. Now that we have tools for sharing economic structures like Blockchain "all" we need is the will. Do we have it?           

For more about the challenges of Blockchain and massively hyped technologies like Bitcoin  see:

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Bringing sports opportunities to the young in under-served Toronto neighbourhoods - Congratulations to Nutmeg Soccer

On Aug.23, 2018 in the Parliament Street Public Library TorontotheBetter was pleased to join with colleague Javier Diaz and other volunteers at non-profit community organization Nutmeg Soccer to support their volunteer work bringing free soccer coaching to young people in the Alexandra Park and Regent Park neighbourhoods of downtown Toronto. Through TorontotheBetter's affiliate Red Panamericana Toronto we offered Nutmeg openings with partners in Jane-Finch and other  neighbourhoods and so hope to enable Nutmeg in its aspiration to engage more young girls and boys in their successful programme. To learn more about Nutmeg and to offer them your support please visit

Monday, 20 August 2018

"Loaner-ship v. ownership" revisited: the commons of water, air and land as a cure for what ails us? Free University of Toronto broadsheet Commuting" poses the central challenge for Toronto and the world

From a medieval saint can our salvation come? "Sister Water", one article of several like-mindedly ecological published recently in Commuting, a broadsheet distributed freely by the University of Toronto Mississauga  (UTM), cites "Canticle of the Sun", a song, legend has it, sung on his deathbed by St. Francis of Assisi, he of medieval sainthood. For article author Andrea Muehlebach the song asks "what it would mean to think of the world outside of the paradigm of the private and the proprietary." True to their founder's beliefs Franciscans observed a radical renunciation of possessions.     

In 2018, disenchantment with major 20th century economic models that collapsed spectacularly in 1989, and then in 2008 (the year of the "Great Recession"), continues, and the commons idea validated by Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom seeps into more and more debates. But in this post-millennial epoch simply proclaiming the increasingly acknowledged ideal of the commons, which inevitably speaks clearly to some but not to others, is not society's most urgent imperative. Instead, it is more valuable to explain how a commons approach will address the particular problems that confront the world in our still adolescent 21st century.

First and most pressingly since the challenge is universal and potentially catastrophic is, of course, the environment. If in times of pre-industrial plenitude renunciation could be seen as a moral/religious reversion to an ideal of saintly fleshlessness, in our later times of hyper-consumptive "economism", where citizens are routinely advised to "go out and shop"  to cure social ills, many would agree that our survival as a planet depends on curbing enthusiasm for stuff. In fact, the now irrefutable evidences of global warning suggest a kind of  lament by the universe itself. As our unprecedented, self-destructive epidemics of diabetes, obesity and auto-immune disease imply, consumerism is not a genetic compulsion of human society. It has been created and promoted by forces that depend on it.

Echoing the "Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge" project designed for popular self-education in the 19th century, according to their masthead Commuting, and its companion UTM broadsheets aim to "foster a deeper public awareness of the complex entanglements of ecologies of excess, environmental legacies of colonialism, the financialization of weather, contemporary catastrophism, politics of  sustainability, climate justice and hopeful resilience." If we see the above explosion of "polysyllabism" as an ironic commentary on the ills of uncontrolled materialism then the solution is simple in principle: a few short words - use and return instead of consuming. The solution  sounds a lot like a library.

A trust-based "loaner-ship" relationship with the world, as long enshrined in libraries, is arguably better than ownership, a form of the enclosure that has defined modern society since the 18th century. It is the only way of preserving our commons, the only one we have. A social economy where what we use is conserved by returning it as it is, or as equivalent social value, is the necessary institutional instrument to achieve the sustainable world now routinely celebrated by most responsible citizens and their leaders. Until this becomes a societal norm instead of the discretionary option of a few we will continue to experience pollution and depletion. Worker empowerment, consumer transparency, environmental conservation and community partnership, are the societal values recognized and celebrated by TorontotheBetter though our directory and communications. We call on more enterprises to embody them in their operations.               

Congratulations to University of Toronto Mississauga for the social engagement represented by their Diffusion of Useful Knowledge series and thanks to the friend of TorontotheBetter who introduced us to it. To maximize the diffusion of this useful knowledge we encourage those able to see and read it to loan it to others. 

Monday, 13 August 2018

For a Better Toronto - wise words from Jane-Finch

Quoting Logan X on Toronto's recent gun violence on page 7 of the Aug.9-15 issue of NOW and hoping NOW doesn't sue us for sharing their copy. “We need community leaders on the block. They should be part of committees. These committees should link with other committees in other communities and have a way for all these kids to get to know each other…We need to have a day where communities meet each we can be friends and this violence shit can stop.” Movements always start this way. Toronto's must.                                                                           TorontotheBetter encourages all in Toronto and enterprise too to step up and play their part in solving the problems caused by the politics of cutback, inequality and neglect. Cutting back hurts. 

Friday, 3 August 2018

Selling, but not selling out? - the future of Social Enterprise.

Some green shoots start in the dark but too much darkness will eventually kill the plant.  
The recent sale of pioneering Kitchener, Ontario carshare Community Carshare to bigger brother Communauto of Montreal, through its palatably titled Virtucar of Ottawa raises a question about the evolution of contemporary social enterprise. Like worker co-op Drum Travel, who sold out to Bay Street corporation New Wave Travel in the 1990's, Community Carshare's evolution represents a basic dilemma for innovative enterprise, be it socially purposed or not. If successful, they have to grow to stay viable, at least commercially, in evolving economies. If not, they just disappear. Are enterprising start-ups doomed to disappear into the maw of larger, less idealistic, even if not un-idealistic, businesses? After twenty years of blood, sweat and, probably, tears, by the original marginally recompensed activists who created it, the former People's Car that became Community Carshare and had in recent years expanded from 2 cities to 10, has now dropped its non-profit co-operative structure and become a regular for-profit business, though still plying its carshare trade in a fast expanding sector (now including major capitalist firms like Enterprise) of the kind pilloried by Peter Dauvergne in books like "Environmentalism of the Rich." The challenge, one answered by many co-operatives, over time, is staying true to core values rather rather than following market-based indicators.It can be done, but expanding too fast, as did Community Carshare, I would argue, as a former board member, though understandable in volatile times, is not the route to take, even if the metaphor seems appropriate in this case.       

The business of many sustainability promoting firms is really business, argues Dauvergne, not sustainability, however much they may want to suggest the opposite. The question for pioneering social enterprises which have had a genuinely huge impact on current culture and lifestyles is this:must selling for scale and greater impact require selling out? Unless there are deeper values at work, be they political, moral or in some cases, even religious, probably.       

TorontotheBetter Question for Chris Hedges (speaking in Toronto on Aug.27)

What is the Russian translation of "pornification" (Hedges' one-word critique of America's mainstream - everything can be bought and sold - culture)? As is well known, a few years ago Hedges deserted his post as reporter at the New York Times in disgust about the Iraq War and other murderous matters. He now does his reportorial work on the RT (Russia Today) broadcasting platform that is an undisguised propaganda arm of the Russian state. It is possible that Hedges can square his RT platform with his morality but to date there has been little evidence of how, or if, he does that, in the face of various provocations like annexation of Crimea and high profile poisonings.

Silence on Russia's nefarious activities need not amount to an acceptance of similar moral violations by Hedges' home country; his refined moral sensibility means he should know that. Neither of these big states are either communist or socialist and to what extent they are even democracies is a question many ponder. But to ask difficult questions is what Hedges has long argued for and often done. Will Toronto do the asking of Hedges when he speaks here at the Reference Library on August 27 at 7pm?

For more on recent happenings in the new Eastern Europe see

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Greyhound is not a social enterprise

It's simple. Greyhound has ended its service to Western Canada because it doesn't make enough money to satisfy the company's corporate mission: to make a profit. Trying to guilt this corporate giant into being nice to the poor or indigenous communities is unlikely to work, unless it can see a marketing opportunity, and so far it doesn't and is unlikely to, since profit is its purpose.

Serving the mobility needs of the economically disadvantaged is a public responsibility and must be made a public priority. The state must, and could, provide such services through taxation, like other social services. Saying that the service, when offered, does not make money is a category error; a social service, be it healthcare or education, or in this case need-based transportation, does not exist to make money. As a community we provide such public goods to serve people, not as charity but as a necessity for social well-being and capacity. Even a social enterprise, should one be found that would provide the service in question here, is an inferior option because it would be a discretionary, even if laudable, provision, dependent on a charitable motive.

The ability to travel to basic social services, like healthcare or education, should be a right for those who need them, otherwise the right to the services themselves is denied. School buses are the relevant example. Free busing to necessary service locations for those without other options is simply an extension of the same principle. Rights without means are not rights at all. Time for Canadian political parties to step up and fund the travel to needed services, whether by independent buys services or otherwise. This Greyhound story is just another example of how private interests cannot support public purposes. Greyhound moves in a different direction from the public good, even if they may occasionally collide. 

Monday, 9 July 2018

TorontotheBetter helps to seed ideas at the Leslieville Flea

Partner Samson Books' mobile bookstore, led by Libra/TorontotheBetter co-op member Greg Taylor provided a welcome/cool space for progressive reading at the recent Leslieville Flea gathering in Toronto. We made book donations to the Samson Books and also met new enterprises for our directory in ethical coffee roasting and computer recycling. Stay tuned to this space for more progressive Toronto enterprise news.     

Monday, 11 June 2018

IceScreaminBrothers - Really sweet all-Canadian social enterprise

Ok - none of this makes sense, but when last weekend we visited Goodness Me in Mississauga, the GTA's very own locally sourcing "whole foods" store we found some of the best ice cream we have ever tasted. That it's made in Lethbridge, Alberta rather than Toronto seems irrelevant when it tastes this good. That it is made by school-age Canadian kids just adds to the spice. And that the "Screaming Brothers" themselves make contributions to local food banks and social benefit organizations was the clincher for our willingness to feature them here. As an Alberta based enterprise they cannot be listed in our Directory, so  let's say we hereby make them honoraryTorontotheBetterans. Here they are the boys in their "working" clothes:


Friday, 25 May 2018

The Futility of Social Enterprise - Peter Dauvergne's War on the Social Economy

Peter Dauvergne, author of "Environmentalism of  The Rich". the "Shadows of Consumption" and "Eco-Business: the Big Brand Takeover of Sustainability", is Canadian. But, assuming that last fact embodies a positive moral connotation, Dauvergne is not at all polite or nice about social enterprise,the business concept that fueled our creation of the TorontotheBetter directory. We take enterprises at their word and aim to enable their aspirational selves. But, simply put, Dauvergne thinks that 1) social enterprise and those who believe in their power for good are deluded to think that their "tiny environmental cuts" are ever "going to transform western-style capitalism" (p.6), and that 2) many well-meaning NGOs have sold out to their corporate enemies in return for sponsorship of their well-meaning business endeavors. The problem for TorontotheBetter and the enterprises within it is that  Dauvergne is largely right. Much private enterprise is dependent on sales of consumables, and so cannot, obviously, cure the ills of consumption, and many corporations cynically use charities merely to clean up their image.

Deluded or hypocritical, the social economy options presented both seem bad and would leave the field of social enterprise in political disarray, even though, in his more sentimental moments, Dauvergne recognizes the sincerity of many social entrepreneurs at a personal level. The question that Dauvergne does not answer is the key one; if private enterprise that is built on increasing turnover for success is always contributing to the problem it professes to remove how can enterprise improve its act? Selling green products is still selling and the pursuit of profit through more green products can be as taxing on the environment as non-green products in that both encourage use of environmental capacity and require more or less consumption.

The way out of Dauvergne's Gordian knot must start with a clear minded recognition of the in- principle aspirational futility of the ideal of clean consumption in a capitalist economic form built on endless growth. But just as TorontotheBetter supports other forms of social enterprise such as democratic workplaces, so enterprise can seek benign goals that do not depend on exponential consumption, e.g. protecting and conserving services, and contributing to greater understanding of the need for other kinds of intervention, such as government action, and community partnerships that restrict consumption. If recognizing the futility of one's actions might seem a contrary way to the greater good for society it is nonetheless entirely in line with the Socratic tradition of wisdom that starts with recognition of one's own limitations and, sincerely believed, can serve to spur further efforts. TorontotheBetter continues to support clear-sighted attempts to make the private enterprise that still makes up over 50% of the Canadian economy serve the greater/better good. Aspiration to the better is always better than acceptance of achievement of the worse. And even to acknowledge the error of one's ways is a positive step in most belief systems. Capitalistic growth may be a problem, but feeding people healthy nutrition does not have to be.                   

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Beyond Feel Good - On Toronto's 2018 Buy Good Feel Good Expo


The people in the pictures above are all of a certain age, chat happily, hold hands, scan an art display and likely will purchase some of the colourful gifts on display. Though multicultural, they are clearly not poor, or old, or visibly diseased, even if those they want to help may be. The imagery would not be out of place in a popular magazine. Which, in a way, is likely the point.This is a long post, bit stick with us. It's about the promise of an easy way to a good way. 
Shopping as psycho-therapy was long ago advocated by ex U.S. President George Bush, among others, as a cure for what ails us  and, like most placebos it works with some things… for a while. But shopping as a cure for social ills is a more recent phenomenon. It was born as a reaction to a long neo-liberal economic consensus in the mainstream, and its associated constraints, most notably reduced, or removed, social support. The Buy Good Feel Good [BGFG] expo organizers, whose event brought many passionate and sincere entrepreneurs to Toronto in May must have long pondered an appropriate title for the gathering, so the conjunction of consumerism and well-or better feeling could not have been an accident; it poses for all the need to think about a central issue: the roles, actual and potential, of business enterprise in society.
Milton Friedman, neo-liberal economic hero, argued that the only role of business is to make a profit. By implication, this leaves it to the state, whatever is ideologically left to It, to fix whatever ills arise from the single-minded pursuit of profit, of which ills history has seen many, and still does. A simple division of labour follows, we could then conclude: business creates the jobs and income to purchase whatever business creates, while the state heals any wounds that the wealth creation process generates.  But since neo-liberals oppose tax increases and almost tax itself, in principle, society’s ability to perform such a role has significantly waned. And since, too, statist solutions, such as full employment, for the ills of economic productivity,  have been discarded after the fall of centralized communism, a core challenge was posed for government: how to ensure productivity, and public well-being without increased tax-funded public service investment?   
Enter at this point – a perfect option that offered social benefits without taxation to fund it.  How about if business itself does the job by incorporating in its business models social goals as well as its bottom line needs, including profit? BGFG and TorontotheBetter are both committed to the potential of this model. And since the birth of industrial capitalism there have been enterprises like Bourneville Chocolate, that have indeed incorporated moral, religious or political values in their principles and practices. However successful such enterprises may be, however, we believe that their advocates must explicitly recognize what they cannot and will not do. The Buy Good Feel Good space offers an opportunity for such to do that, but unfortunately there was little mention of it to the knowledge of this observer.   
TorontotheBetter is a non-profit set up to promote the use and availability of socially progressive economic options. In this regard, then, there is common ground between the aims of  TorontotheBetter, a non-profit enterprise, and the BGFG initiative. With the greater part of developed economies still in private hands and with the goal of profit maximization leading, as always, to the depletion of much human and environmental capacity, there is clearly growing opportunity, and space, for  what has been called “business done differently.” Feelgood has become a pejorative phrase in recent years because of its implicit recognition of the gap between feeling and being, or aspiration and actuality. Scanning the range of goods and services on display at BGFG we saw enterprises that do many things that benefit various sufferers like the many impoverished peasants of Nepal and/or the environment everywhere. The problem for TorontotheBetter then, is not the good that many social enterprises do, but their relative silence about the much that they can’t, or don’t do, even if they recognize that other institutions are required for an adequate social fabric to be completed. The danger of a relentlessly positive feelgood chorus is that it will encourage complacency about remaining problems that remain un-served and,  most importantly, about  the causes of these and other societal problems.
So, for future trade expos, whose object must be  to promote use of its sponsoring enterprises, we recommend a continuous parallel narrative about the limits of the independent social  enterprise sector on the one hand and the critical importance of stable tax support for the provision of basic needs for all by the public sector on the other. In addition to their relatively piecemeal coverage of societal needs, and consequential high prices and associated class privilege of social enterprise users (patrons seems a fitting word her, for once)  – there seem to be few socially committed engineering or mining companies, for instance – silence on the need for state funding in key areas inevitably leaves them open to an accusation of more or less smug complacency in the face of real societal stress.
We call on BGFG and other initiatives like them to be upfront  about the benefits and the limitations of what they do. They will gain in credibility and commitment if they do.                        

Sunday, 6 May 2018

TorontotheBetter greets the 2018 Homeless World Cup

2018 marks another year for the FIFA World Cup of football (aka soccer) the world's largest sporting event. This year the millionaire players of professional football will strut their stuff in Russia. Meanwhile, what is, we believe, an equally, if not more, important soccer celebration will take place in Mexico where teams made up of homeless volunteers from many countries will engage in fierce but friendly competition for the Homeless World Cup, a parallel event to the FIFA contest, that takes place annually to remind the world that by no means everyone has the chance to play and develop their life opportunities in the economic mainstream. For lack of sufficient affordable housing,Toronto, Canada's richest city, in one of the richest countries in the world,  is "home" to never diminishing numbers of homeless people.
Stay tuned to this space for reports from the Homeless World Cup, stating in August, 2018. TorontotheBetter is pleased to lend its support to initiatives that increase awareness and action to reduce a social scourge - homelessness - that continues to blight the potential of so many members of our community and others around the world. NOTE: though Canada has sent teams to previous homeless world cups we regret that it will not in 2018.    
We invite you to follow this blog for future posts and plans for future homeless world cup events in Toronto and beyond. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Toronto 2018 Creative Commons summit day 3 -> the Future of Copyright in the Commons - From Toronto 2018 Onwards

TorontotheBetter to start its post-2018 summit creative commons initiative. Join us!
Whether it's Ghana, Beijing, Poland, Krygyzstan, or Canada, ask a random person in the street about the creative commons and you are likely to be met with a blank stare. The enthusiasm of the hundreds of commons supporters at the 2018 global Commons summit in Toronto is both misleading and promising. The dream of open access to all knowledge for all is alive and well, but like any revolution in the making it still faces indifference and actual resistance from the established orders, in this case, many copyright holders, be they publishers, authors or legal systems that will be disrupted by the commons. As a result, creative commons still remains largely marginal in most jurisdictions though there is remarkable growth in its acceptance (predictably more in certain sectors than in others). Education and research have led the way, with more and more authors willing and able, through open access Web channels to make creator works available free to anyone interested, but new sectors like publishing, healthcare and even commerce (as in TorontotheBetter's directory of local social enterprise []) are increasingly re-aligning themselves. The summit's last keynote speech depicted a future of common ground where copyright defenders and public 
access proponents can see mutual benefits in an alternative system of licensing along with exceptions and limitations to standard copyright. 

For all that the rationale for an open knowledge (and open science) future seems clear, in principle, the road ahead will not be easy as income, careers and institutions must adjust and sometimes perish,  Further, wider capacity will require greater 
investment. Wealth and power rarely vacate their positions voluntarily so the forces for free and open access must be persistent and creative.

TorontotheBetter renews its commitment to a better Toronto and a better world in which enterprise, states and civil society must each play a role in ensuring that what all need is indeed available to all. Ultimately the change starts here, with each of us, in our own decisions about how and what to create and access. As the Creative Commons summit sets off to its 2019 venue in Lisbon, Portugal TorontotheBetter will work to sustain the legacy from our city's two-year involvement as global summit hosts.  

** C.C. Certification Opportunities for all -  participate in spreading the creative commons message. See Contact to join our local Creative Commons initiative. 


Spreading the Movement: Day 2 highlights from Toronto Creative Commons Summit

Day 2 brought a crucial discussion about the struggle to spread the commons movement; the movement is building, but is still culturally marginal to mainstream property traditions.Two problems dominated audience contributions to the conversation: a continuing  ignorance, often poverty related, of creative commons licensing options, and the
lack of credibility, to many, of the open access creed. In short, we were asking ourselves '"how do we make the movement stronger?" Among the most effective methods voiced were adoption of open access by prominent organizations such as
universities and state bodies, and spontareous exemplary actions, funded if need be, by authors and creators. Our TorontotheBetter spokesman noted how the David of open access in healthcare research and publication had not yet slain the giants of traditional publishing but was making progress as more researchers and writers choose to make their work openly available to all. as readers, even those who are not writers, we should applaud and support those willing to make their ideas available to all, particularly in areas where they can have direct life or death consequences,      

Friday, 13 April 2018

2018 Creative Commons Global Summit starts in Toronto today

The 2018 Creative Commons Global Summit begins in Toronto today
As leaders continue to fail us, be they Canada's Liberals with their impossible dream of uniting new pipeline development and environmental  preservation, Donald Trump's warmongering or Mark Zuckerberg's lame "dis-ingenuity"  about the corporate use of personal data by his Facebook corporation, a better option for the world continues to grow. For the second year in a row the Creative Commons organization  (, developers of the creative commons licensing process for responsible publishing, has brought to Toronto its global summit. And with it comes renewed commitment to a world relieved of the shackles of private enclosure in all its forms. 
Among many  other topics on day one summit a record number of international participants heard of the growing worldwide interest in open access and open source publication using creative commons licenses, both in scholarly and  popular settings, and as well about techniques for motivating personal and organizational creative commons initiatives. It is not fanciful now to think of a day when creative commons is the norm for publishing rather than  the exception. 

Perhaps most notable of all was the heavy institutional presence at the summit of libraries as agents of what can now reasonably called "the new commons movement." With a global installed base and a fast growing range of involvements, from "things", including tools and seeds, to people, the once "humble" library, i.e. the  "loaner-ship" model, appears to more and more as a socio-economic model that avoids many of the problems associated with ownership based economic systems, while building practical contributions to the common good.             

TorontotheBetter welcomes the Creative Commons to Toronto once again and will be posting on-site bulletins from each of the three days of the Summit  taking place on April 13 to 15, 2018.     

Monday, 2 April 2018

TorontotheBetter welcomes new George Brown College Community Worker Placement Student

This semester we are pleased to provide a TorontotheBetter Placement opportunity as part of the  credit requirements for a Community Worker student from George Brown College. Student Jayden Rathwell is assisting us by learning about new developments in existing enterprises in our directory while also researching others in two exciting new areas of development - aboriginal business and medical marijuana. Once again this year we welcome our chance to contribute to George Brown College's important programme contribution to community development and also the enthusiasm, ideas and talents that Jayden, like similar placement students in previous years, brings to her work with us.         

TorontotheBetter Prepares for Inclusion of Marijuana Directory Listings.

With the legalization of Marijuana in Canada just a couple of months away TorontotheBetter is assessing existing services to determine which marjuana suppliers comply with our better  Toronto enterprise criteria. Though medical functions like pain management are clearly within our commitment to justice for all in the city in our view Marijuana has been to date unjustly prohibited to the detriment of those who can benefit from it, arguably for ethno-cultural rather than reasons of harmfulness. We expect our review to allow  us to add this new sector of enterprises to the scope  of our directory in time for their official legalization in July. A better Toronto is one which facilitates whatever healing agents can assist residents to live their lives to the fullest without unnecessary financial or legal impediments. Stay tuned to this  spot for announcements of  our first ToorntotheBetter marijuana suppliers.             

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

For a Canadian Social Economy: Two Books Explode the Myths of Neoliberal/Economist Claims

The End of Neoliberalism/Market Fundamentalism
It’s never over till it’s over and on the ground change always lags movements of mind, or what William Blake called “mind-forged manacles”. But still, when the moral and intellectual principles of a worldview have been demolished then it’s over.

Two books, James Kwak’s “Economism:Bad Economics and  the Rise of Inequality” (2017) and Ha-Joon Chang’s “Bad Samaritans: the Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism” (2009),  represent a kind of 1-2 knock-out punch to the neoliberal/economist orthodoxy that has now ruled economics for the last forty years, that is the belief, however contrary the facts, that unrestricted  markets are not only the best, but, in fact, the only, way to manage economies, i.e. TINA (There is No Alternative).

Chang destroys the moral claims of market fundamentalists by pointing out that all nations that have grown wealthy have used trade barriers to do so, when it suits them, while Kwak demolishes the truth claims of "economism" by exposing the failures of narrowly market-based approaches to produce the benefits claimed for them.

When your moral and intellectual principles are shown to be hypocritical and untrue it’s probably time to change your tune, but most governments, including Canada’s, however sunny their faces, continue to assume the faulty premises of neoliberalism/economism. TorontotheBetter’s support for social economics/social enterprise is not as a subsidiary add-on to mainstream economics and not as opposed to state responsibility to address non-discretionary necessities,like health, security and education. Rather we see our model as the core. It is the socially based economics embodied, in different ways, and to different degrees, by the diverse enterprises in our directory. What we may call, echoing medicine's Hippocratic ideal of doing "no harm" - defensive economism, i.e. reining in enterprise by health and safety regulation - is necessary but not sufficient. We can do more to address social ills and  the optimal way is to  prevent them upstream by in-building inclusion, empowerment inequality and sustainability.                 

In 2018 Canada continues to pursue trade deals whose inevitable consequence is continuing inequality, less sovereignty, and reduced democracy.  Contrary to the main messaging of these deals – there is no contradiction between economics and the environment , or social justice - our position is TIA (There Is an Alternative), and its realization is a comprehensive social  economy.

*Both books reviewed here may be purchased for a discount from TorontotheBetter by emailing or borrowed from your local public library.   

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Making China Great Again-2: Where Are the Workers?

Where are the workers?                                                                   Communnique 2 from Marc Young, TorontotheBetter's correspondent in Shanghai, China - Feb.22,2018]

What first struck me about east-coast, urban China was the general gleam of things. Shanghai looks rich. I am not referring to my glimpse of this or that wealthy businessman or well-connected cadre out on the town in an especially flashy car, engaging in stunning acts of consumption – although such sights can be had. I am talking about general prosperity. For the westerner not initially sure of what to expect, this part of China, at least, impresses right away with its first-rate public transportation systems, shining skyline and ubiquitous shopping, dining, cultural and sporting opportunities. The material well-being of its citizenry is obvious.
            In other words, to deny that the country's enormous development over the past forty or so years has had strong egalitarian impulses and results is to lie. When Deng Xiaoping and the Party implemented market reforms and declared, all those years ago, that some individuals and regions in China would have to get rich first so that others could get rich later, they were not, I suggest, being cynical. Or kidding. This was obviously a serious program.
            Today, comparative strolls through the streets of downtown Toronto and Shanghai reveal far more desperate, homeless, and poorly clothed individuals in one place than in the other. And the city with more visibly destitute men and women ain't the Asian one! Nor is it true that panhandlers are seemingly scarcer in Chinese cities simply because the police move them on, though this may sometimes happen. Those that I have seen have not been shy in advertising their need, nor have they felt obliged to quickly abandon their spot on the pavement.
            By this I don't mean that the Chinese Communist Party has built a bank of social services that is the envy of the First World. Indeed, some of the causes of less extreme poverty in urban China are conservative ones: specifically, the extended family remains strong and offers a significant safety net for individuals who otherwise would hit the ground. Certainly it is not difficult to also find grim hostel accommodations often serving migrants who come to Shanghai (and other urban centres) in search of work. And of course readers may know about recent mass expulsions of mostly migrant labourers from overcrowded tenements in Beijing after fire broke out there. Yet scenes so common to forgotten, downtown neighbourhoods of North America and Africa of idle men (and fewer women), hopeless and visibly angry, are not to be found. Or I have not found them. Shanghai's urban poor are working, most of them. They are too occupied to loiter. In the “visual impressions test,” the commercial and financial capital of socialism-with-Chinese characteristics does pretty well against polite, rich, and often heartless Toronto the Good.
            But here's my segue. Employment does not necessarily mean contentment, as we all know. A living standard higher than one's parents does not necessarily produce bliss. And on this front, the official rhetoric of Party and State about “harmonious” socioeconomic development in China runs up against the reality of a population increasingly willing to express its displeasure, when displeasure it feels. And the Chinese workplace can be a generator of discontent.
            Though available statistics are almost certainly not 100 per cent accurate, data from organizations that monitor labour issues in the country suggest that work stoppages and work-related protests have been increasing since well-publicized industrial actions rocked Honda facilities in Guangdong province some eight years ago. In both 2015 and 2016, for example, the number of documented strikes across the country reportedly approached 3,000. In 2014 there had taken place an epic struggle involving over 50,000 workers in various shoe factories at Yue Yuan Industrial Holdings, a Taiwanese employer, in Dongguan, as workers took to the streets to protest company failure to make legally required contributions to the social insurance fund. In the same year in Guangzhou some 2,500 workers at Lide Shoes also struck following a relocation announcement by the employer – and reported attempts to force workers to sign poorer contracts. 2015 saw 5,000 workers at Stella Shoe Co. leave the factory over company failure to make housing fund payments; this also occurred in Dongguan.
            According to China Business Review, by 2016 the incidents of unrest in the retail and service sectors were overtaking those in manufacturing. Strikes at Walmart outlets were noteworthy as the retail giant sought to impose draconian scheduling 'flexibility' measures on workers accustomed to steady shifts of sensibly limited duration.
             My own direct exploration of labour relations and practices in Shanghai have, out of a very small sample, revealed employers who fail to pay workers for months at a time due to declared cash-flow issues and others who effectively ignore obligations to consult before introducing significant changes in the workplace. So what's exceptional about that, one might ask? Employers that don't abide by laws that are supposed to govern their behaviour? Not only in China, of course.
            But what is the government's response to social tensions across sectors and regions? Its priority can be summed up in the official affection for the term “harmonious development,” as mentioned above. Communist officials know perfectly well that their development strategy cannot proceed without episodes of class friction. Although Beijing wants to shift the axis of its economy from low wage manufacturing to high value-added, tech-driven production and services, such a transition cannot be achieved overnight. Nor, as those in the west well know, does this model bring high wages for all – except in its fictional form. 'Mature' information and service-driven economies of course provide high-paying salaries to numerous highly-trained experts and technicians – while they leave many toiling in poorly remunerated clothing store, fast food and hospitality/tourism positions. Or plain unemployed.
            Party and government officials are too smart to think that workers will be “harmonious” simply if they hear enough propaganda. What those who govern would like is for discontent to be nipped in the bud and channelled by a somewhat more effective All China Federation of Trade Unions, the country's only legal labour body. Laws to encourage collective agreements are on the books. Legally speaking, if the majority of workers in a workplace express a desire to open negotiations, an employer is generally obliged to engage. Many in the Communist Party, high and low, would be delighted if the ACFTU were to acquire a greater knack for funnelling shop and office-floor frustration into negotiations that produced collective agreements and averted unrest. The State has declared its desire that 90 per cent of the workforce be unionized.
            But workers have little confidence in a “labour organization” notable for not acting in their interests. In my own brief, first-hand experience of Chinese industrial relations, I have dared to suggest to colleagues that they raise an issue with our labour union. My status as a naive foreigner is the only reason they deign to offer me a patient reply as to why this would be time wasted. But sometimes they also say that Chinese workers are obedient and reluctant to make a fuss. This is not really true. Or often not true.
            Meanwhile, the Party shows no sign of wanting to relinquish control over its “labour movement.” For now, this seems to be a case of wanting to keep a cake and eat it too. Beijing's preference is to make the ACFTU a more credible voice for workers and keep it under Party tutelage, so that correct policy can be preached and things don't get out of hand. As they did in a country with a famous shipyard called Gdansk.
            We will see how things go.    


Sunday, 28 January 2018

Resilient and Relentless - TorontotheBetter Welomes Cedar Basket Native Canadian Centre youth enterprise

Greetings to Cedar Basket, the ENAGB Youth Gift Shop. featuring the Resilient and Relentless clothing and crafts brand..In the heart of Toronto, near the Spadina subway stop at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT). Cedar Basket, is a unique, indigenously owned and operated gift shop that celebrates First Nations, Metis and Inuit arts and crafts while fostering the the energy and skills of our aboriginal youth. Torontothebetter was recently offered the chance to speak with Cedar Basket Coordinator Edward Cyr about the new store and  the opportunities it offers to native youth and all in Toronto.

Edward reviewed for us the many barriers of housing, employment and education faced by native youth in Canada's largest urban centre.

As Well as the Cedar Basket Gift Shop The Native Canadian Cntre of Toronto offers a wide range of programmes or all with a commitment  to the advancement of  Toronto;s and Canada;s native. TorontootheBetter llooks forward to further contributing to awreness and  support of native peoples in Toronto and beyond. 

As an expression of our founding TorontotheBetter principle of inclusion both Cedar Basket and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto will  become part of the TorontotheBetter Directory. Stay tuned to this space to join us as we continue our support for indigenous and other progressive economic initiatives.

TorontotheBetter - building Toronto's social economy since 2004

Friday, 12 January 2018

Middle class bullshit continues

At some point repeating the same phrase endlessly should get embarrassing. Apparently it still hasn't for Canada's leading party. For the record the middle class is not a dinner party and you can't "join" it. That's why few ever do. Middle income is NOT middle class, which comes with the habit of power, power over. The parrott-ers of the Liberal class analysis (2 classes only and the difference between those who are there and those who are not working hard enough to be there) either don't understand reality or are happy to promote an illusion; let's call it the Canadian Dream..   

On shitholes - the American ones

As travellers in the land of the free (for some), many of us have been to some of them: the shithole American towns where the poor have to live. There's not a Whole Foods in sight, just regular people trying to live decent lives with the class chips of stacked against them. Solidarity with them as we do our best for a truly social economy.