By D. t. Cochrane at Jan 10, 2008
In 1998 I moved half way across Canada to Ottawa, a city three time bigger than any I'd ever lived in before. Although I had moved because of a woman I'd fallen in love with I was also in the process of changing my university major. I'd decided to go into economics. As an activist, this seemed to be a ridiculous, contrary or sadistic discipline. My thinking at the time went something like this: "Economics is the language of power. If I want to speak to power, I need to speak the language of economics." I've since come to realize that economics is the language of power because it says what power needs it to say.1 But, at the time, I still hoped to harness the power of economics for the struggles against capitalism. I felt a little politically listless. I considered myself an anti-capitalist, but I didn't know what I was for. Being in a new city, I was also without friends and comrades. I was searching for something solid in which to ground myself. Not knowing about the tradition of radical economics, I decided to search for 'alternative economics.' I went to the public library and searched for that term. A single item was returned: Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel's Looking Forward.
I eagerly read the book. It wasn't what I'd imagined I'd find. Their description of how a non-capitalist economy might work seemed so fundamental, yet so alien. Who engages in such thorough envisioning? I didn't know at the time that the book publishing company described as an example of how this 'participatory' system might work at the enterprise level was based on the actual publishing company South End Press. When I learned that my favourite punk rock band, Propagandhi, were fans of Albert and Hahnel's works, I was sold. I quickly ordered Thinking Forward and The Political Economy of Participatory Economics. It was also at this time that I discovered ZNet (which I called, being a Canadian, Zed Net). It was such a convenient packaging of many authors I already respected and a source of discovering many new writers. It took me no time to sign up as a sustainer. The ability to directly question both Albert and Hahnel about their economic system as well as other authors, including, Noam Chomsky, made the decision to contribute a few dollars each month an easy one.
Shortly after joining ZNet I learned that Michael Albert would be speaking at a student conference in Montreal. Again, the decision to attend was an easy one. The conference proved to be important beyond the opportunity to engage with one of the thinkers behind parecon. It was at the conference that I learned of an upcoming demonstration in Ottawa. I jumped at the chance to get involved in community organizing. It was at the meetings for this demo that I met some of the people who remain close friends to this day. They got me involved in other Ottawa groups both on campus and off. I was now working on the economics degree that I hoped would allow me to talk the talk of power. ZNet was always a powerful antidote to the ideologically driven neo-classical theory that I was learning. My involvement as a sustainer always waxed and waned, but I knew that it was always there.
I recently allowed my membership to lapse. It was largely inadvertent: a new email address, a new credit card number. I was also going to other sites more frequently. But, as I have for the past (almost) ten years, I came back to ZNet. Upon seeing the plea for funding to help update the site, despite being a little cash strapped as a new father and a PhD student, I knew I could find at least five dollars a month to help their upgrade. Its importance has reached beyond my political life and the least I could do is sacrifice one beer and one coffee each month.
1.The changing 'truths' of economics corresponding to the changing needs of capitalism is brilliantly catalogued in Douglas Dowd's Capitalism and Its Economics.