Economy as Community of Communities

Read for an invitation, then a day in the neighborhood

Dear partner in community economy, 

We are a Portland Catholic Worker community inviting you to share a guiding vision with us – economic society as a community of communities, gathered by shared commitments, equipped with the cooperative economic apparatus to realize them. For us in our first implementation phase, this means cultivating neighborhood-scale cooperative economy from existing communities gathered by churches and schools. The next step is these paired pilots: 

1) Through partnership with Notre Dame Federal Credit Union – a model for parish-based subsidiary cooperative banking.  This lets a congregation use its collective financial leverage to benefit its community, especially through a mechanism generating 0% interest loans, on the model of Biblical redemption. 

2) Through partnership with Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life – hybrid online/in-person theology and interdependence economy courses for congregations which draw from the celebration of Word and Eucharist the theological resources to understand and live into God’s economy. 

A parish that understands its call in an economic key can translate this into various forms as energy and partnerships (…) become available. I think of mutual insurance, co-op electricity, co-op child care, CPA’s model, etc, as well as growing into a neighborhood based CDFI function as the credit community adds to its capital base and federates. 

To work out the kinks in our pilot model and potentially scale, we will need to be working with partners of several kinds: 

  • Experts in financial and cash-flow education that envision responsibility and planning within the shared ownership as opposed to rent-seeking economy
  • Dioceses, alumni associations, school systems, and others who connect multiple place-based communities and stand to gain from the emergent strength of a cooperative economic and financial ecosystem built to their framework
  • Community-based investment funds and models that would allow a church, school, or grocery co-op, using mostly volunteers, to direct their credit union held funds towards equity investments in local small businesses
  • Organizers in different cultural communities who can work with us to tailor the model to different needs and community structures

If you share our belief that an economy built on a community of communities is reachable, want to grow it around the contours and values of existing communities, and possess skills related to this vision, we would love to connect.

A Walk in the neighborhood

I imagine a day that feels like Dorothy Day’s quote about society as a “community of communities”. I’ll track this through 2 spaces: Alberta Cooperative Grocery a couple blocks away and the corner public space offered by the Catholic Worker /public household I live in.  

– At “the co-op” (funny, how the multi-sectorial language is already in use), as I remind myself of the groceries I came in to purchase I think also about interactions I need to have around other cooperative services our co-op is the node for. After purchasing I walk to the module in the back staffed by someone doing their working member hours in the form of member organizing and project support. They update me on negotiations with a large mutual insurance provider that ACG is becoming a subsidiary node for, and I update them on the new local investment opportunities coming online for the members forming a subsidiary cooperative banking community partnered with Notre Dame Federal Credit Union. I also check on the storage area that is used by church and faith groups that order groceries through ACG and disburse them after services on Sundays. 

– As I return to the Catholic Worker/public household, I notice that a couple people are now using our side yard public space (socially distanced seating for conversation and work, public wifi, and self-service coffee and basic food). This space is part of the neighborhood building ties, especially between those “in need” who can use the clothing nook and free fridge, and those wanting a nice gathering space to do remote work or have coffee with neighbors. 

More important than either of these neighborhood spots is the synergy between them and other such spots resulting in the emergence of genuine place-based community with the help of pro-social economic ties (cooperative, trust, etc).

PS The Dorothy Day interview below got me thinking about how the community of communities builds economic ties that cultivate the works of peace.

One thought on “Economy as Community of Communities

  1. Hi Bert–I love your vision of a community of communities and how you are reuniting economics with relationships. (I recoiled at my grad school experience of being taught “rational actor models” of Neoclassical economics divorced from any acknowledgement of value assumptions and especially any notion of “actors” reflecting the imago Dei). I’m curious about a couple things, Bert: 1) What do you mean by Biblical redemption with respect to 0% loans/ (Jubilee perhaps?) 2) What do you see as your next steps to bring this wonderful vision to life?


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