Where lies the passage out of an economic and social system rooted in the illusion scarcity and competition, and into a system of living grounded in the reality of abundance and cooperation? Economist Dr. Olivia Saunders invites us to “peel away” the layers of scarcity and forge our own unique passage, together with our neighbors.
Dr. Saunders met recently with members of the Common Good Collective to talk about the ideas behind her book, Tomato Economics: Shifting Economies from Scarcity to Abundance. Below, find the podcast, transcript, and highlights from Dr. Saunders’ conversation with Peter Block, Greg Jarrell, and Joey Taylor.
The Common Good Podcast is a conversation about the significance of place, eliminating economic isolation and the structure of belonging.
As a professor at the business school at the College of the Bahamas specializing in Economics and Research, Dr. Olivia Saunders advocates for an alternative economy solution. Olivia also is currently a director of the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Capital Fund.
- Peter Block on how Dr. Saunders impacted him: “I think what Olivia taught me was about colonialism. She gave me an insight that before Mass on the Bahamas, when they were colonized and ruled by England, the black economy was much stronger. And she lived in a place where they took care of each other’s children. They fed each other, they cared for each other. And as soon as the island was ‘free,’ people decided they wanted to go to work in the white culture, the tourist culture. And it kind of hurt the black economy a lot. And I’ve heard that in many other places. That thought had never ended in my mind. That’s when she interested me in economics.”
- On the connection between “sovereignty” and “abundance:” “Sovereignty — and I’m talking about my sovereignty, you as a sovereign being, we are all individually as sovereign beings — and for me, there can’t be in abundance unless we are granted, allowed to be sovereign. Because otherwise, somebody is deciding for me, what I should and should not have, what I should be and what I should not be. We talk about colonialism and even possible colonialism a lot. And a major part of colonialism is denying, not just countries their sovereignty, but individuals their sovereignty. We are told we are a sovereign nation, and especially those countries that were once formerly colonized, that you are now ready to get independence, you’re now a sovereign nation. But the reality in the world is that we are not. We are still controlled by powers outside of us either on the political front and/or the economic front and/or the social front and back and side. Because countries outside of the hegemons handled sovereignty because if you cannot act on your own accord, no matter how respectful or helpful you may be, unless it is sanctioned, and given the okay by a world power as individuals similarly. We are so often told, ‘Well, you belong in this space or that space, you’re allowed to have this thing or that thing. You’re allowed to go to this kind of school or the next title, or whatever.’ But seldom Are we really allowed to be sovereign.”
- On resisting the gravity of colonizing institutions: “In a way I resisted, but at the same time, if you don’t have some level of cooperation, you’re gonna get pulverized. So the resistance comes, first within myself, to try to be able to understand and see what’s going on. And then to try to figure out, ‘Well, hmm… If I go this way, how am I likely to influence? Or what can I say that will influence persons to think about what they’re thinking — to think how they’re thinking?’ Because to me, I’ve been talking against our economic system, not just domestically, but internationally. There’s a reality. I can’t change it. But the little that I do, while I’m cooperating in the system — for example, going what I can grow in my yard, not being seduced by the black Fridays — and that sort of thing, approaching politics in a different way, how I vote or decide not to vote, let my point of view be known. Because the fact is, that head-on collisions with the powers that be is just self destruction. So I would say, as a pacifist, and it’s going back to the word sovereignty is I tried to claim my own sovereignty within myself, but at the same time, even as I’m in university, I’m there for my voice to be heard. Not to cause construction, not to cause confusion, not to try to say that what you’re doing is absolutely stupid, or insult or, you know, to have my voice from the perspective of abundance to be heard, as I understand it, to be. And you take it, or you don’t take it. Some people take it some times, for instance, two years after hearing it, they come to me and say, ‘Now I understand what you said.’ And they start to ask a lot of things that I was saying 15-20 years ago, I don’t have to say anymore because others are saying it.”
- On workers currently choosing not to back to work: “And this is a way to reclaim their sovereignty, in a measure. Not totally, because they’ll still be working a wage slave as I am as well. But they’re beginning to understand better how the economic system works, and they’re placed in this economic system. So in the Bahamas, and other countries, you know, they always talk about, you know, ‘We don’t have resources!’ One of the mantras you always hear is that ‘We have nothing.’ Yet people come here and make zillions of dollars. Out of this ‘nothingness.’ People are seeing the economic system is designed, it’s scarcity based, because it’s making so many persons so-called ‘valueless’ that your value only comes to the extent that you show up nine, get off at five or eight get off of school. Your value is well beyond that, in our society. In the US, you saw the value of what we say, low skilled, low wage, you know those on the low end of the totem pole, because it was they were keeping people alive.”
“I think if you go back to all traditional societies, the capacity to survive came from sharing, not from competition, not from taking away as much as I can from the next person. If not, you would not have survived. But somehow, somebody decided, the best way to move forward is for us to think only about ourselves, and the world is going to be a lot better as I take from you as much as I can, and leave you to the dogs.”
- How are we going to systematize abundance so that we have something different than what we have today? “I’m always reluctant to come up with a solution. Because one of my things about the scarcity thing is that you’re telling me there’s only one economic system. It’s is called capitalism, or it’s called socialism, or it’s called ‘this’ or it’s called ‘that.’ The Bahamas has 700 islands, keys and all. Less than half a million people. We need an economic system that’s different from Canada, from Chile, from Peru! Going back to the poem Joey read at the beginning: ‘starting now.’ Where are we now? What do we have jn our storehouse that we can share that we can be generous with, and others can be generous with us? And actually, I’ve never come up with a solution for what is abundant economies, right? Because if I do and just being another colonizer saying, that Olivia system is what it should be. I called it Tomato Economics. But you could call it whatever you want to call it. You could call it you know, Grapefruit Economics If you like. What is the economic system, the social construct that is going to work in your space?”
- How can I peel away one layer of scarcity from your life and community? How can you bring another aspect of abundance to your life and community? “It is about peeling away because, like I said, we’re in a in a world and I don’t think when the motivational speakers and all that say to you, ‘We’re in control,’ yeah, to some extent, but still, we’re in somebody else’s world. And we have to peel away, inch by inch, day by day, minute by minute, whenever we have the opportunity, to move away from the idea of scarcity. And I think that’s one of the reasons I stayed in education at the University, and the disputants, we still have a very much in my mind, a colonial education system. Our paradigm is one where we are discouraged from really taking on our sovereignty. So one of the messages for me and peeling away this is, with my students, and how I teach them, how I interact with them, to let them know that they are a lot more than what they’ve been told they are, and that they are not bound by the limitations that are set with them. And in my community, I try to be generous. I have avocado trees, passion, fruit, and I share. And my neighbors share with me, this is who we are as a people. And I think if you go back to all traditional societies, the capacity to survive came from sharing, not from competition, not from taking away as much as I can from the next person. If not, you would not have survived. But somehow, somebody decided, the best way to move forward is for us to think only about ourselves, and the world is going to be a lot better as I take from you as much as I can, and leave you to the dogs. Because the most important thing is for me to become wealthy, for myself. To me, it’s just the little acts of generosity of kindness is just, and to me, it’s just being human. Because if, in my way, demonstrating abundance, it’s amazing how other people feel it, connect with it, and want to interact with it. So that’s just my my way of peeling away.”
“If, in my way, demonstrating abundance, it’s amazing how other people feel it, connect with it, and want to interact with it.”
Art by April Doner.
- More on the Common Good Collective and the reader.
- Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy (Kawano)
- Scarcity in Our Current Economy (Saunders)
- Clark Arrington, Pioneer for Cooperatives and Black Economic Power (Arrington)