Invested in the Common Good
reviewed by Dan Coleman, Orange County (NC) Greens
Susan Meeker-Lowry, Invested in the Common Good, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia PA, 1995. 272 p., Bibliography, index. Paper, $16.95 US/Cloth, $39.95.
Susan Meeker-Lowry's new book, Invested in the Common Good, is essentially an introduction and overview to the practice of sustainable economics. As such, it will serve as a useful and informative guide both to individuals seeking to put their spending and investing to good use and to activists wishing to focus on economic alternatives.
In many ways, Invested in the Common Good is an update of Meeker-Lowry's 1988 book, Economics as If the Earth Really Mattered. The earlier volume went far beyond its sub-title of "a guide to socially conscious investing." Both books cover a wide range of broader issues such as land trusts, worker cooperatives, and revolving loan funds. Each describes a variety of organizing efforts such as Durham NC's Self-Help Credit Union or Ithaca NY's "Ithaca Hours" project. Often these profiles are written by the organizers themselves.
Meeker-Lowry handily mixes the personal with the political. Her discussion ranges from socially responsible investing, letter-writing, and Green consumerism to consumer boycotts and share-holder actions. She challenges the reader to look at how both personal lifestyle and participation in mainstream economic organizations (banks, corporations, etc.) relate to the health of society and of the Earth.
Invested in the Common Good contains one significant departure from its predecessor. Meeker-Lowry now reveals herself to be a deeply spiritual person calling, for example, on readers to "open to the life force that breathes through the Earth, join with it, nurture it, and grow with it." While this language, the focus particularly of the very first chapter, will delight some, others will find it distasteful. Among the latter, unfortunately, will be many of the hard-bitten socialists who desperately need some perspective on trends in local and regional economics that are growing in the shadow of transnational capitalism.
Such readers will share my desire for at least a bit of theory to tie the many fine projects endorsed by Meeker-Lowry to a more global and historical sense of the possibilities for change. The index, pointing the way to Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey, and Amory and Hunter Lovins, contains no reference to Adam Smith or Karl Marx, or even Murray Bookchin. Meeker-Lowry's faith in the possibility for change is refreshing but would be more convincing if coupled with some more rigorous analysis.
Ironically, some of the best writing in Invested in the Common Good comes not from Meeker-Lowry, but from well-known writers who have contributed a number of short essays peppered through the book. Richard Grossman's "It's Time to Organize" broadens the organizing perspective with the unexpected voice of the Highlander Center's founder Myles Horton and with the history of labor struggles in the 1930s. Grossman is delightfully blunt in describing how "corporations and their colleagues in government with the help of many labor and environmental organizations have undermined the democratic process, obscured and rewritten American history, divided people against one another, intimidated and killed."
Brian Tokar adds ten pages on the history and practice of direct action, including discussion of often overlooked factors such as developing support groups and post-action evaluations. John Mohawk discusses "Indian Economic Development" in the context of Native American sovereignty. This forms part of Meeker-Lowry's concluding chapter on how "Native communities are leading the way toward holistic development that honors life and the sacred."
While the variety of contributors and formats make Invested in the Common Good difficult to read through, they make it an excellent reference that is thorough, well-researched, and enriched by participant accounts. Whether you are looking for the socially responsible way to spend your money (and your time), seeking an overview of Green economics, or developing a foundation for activism and organizing, Meeker-Lowry's work will be an important addition to your bookshelf. Unlike Meeker-Lowry, you may not "feel in your bones" the coming eco-utopia, but nonetheless you may want to take part in some of the many activities that begin to make that vision a reality. Invested in the Common Good will tell you how.