Community Economies and Nordic Welfare States

Community Economies and Welfare States

Despite their successful history of welfare generation, Nordic welfare states currently face the challenges of increasing marketisation and ecological demise. In this context, how can community economies and Nordic welfare states co-exist and cooperate? Could a Nordic welfare state be an enabling platform for community economies to diffuse? Could community economies show the welfare state its desirable future model?

These and other questions are explored in a new book by a group of Finnish academics (with activist leanings), Enacting Community Economies Within a Welfare State (Mayfly Books, 2020), which can be downloaded here.

The themes of this book have heightened importance in the context of COVID-19 as governments contend with increasing economic and social uncertainty and instability.

The editors Teppo Eskelinen, Tuuli Hirvilammi and Juhana Venäläinen explain that “the book was the outcome of a collective effort that involved meetings filled with ideas, discussion and collective inspiration,” including with CERN members, Tuomo Alhojärvi, Pieta Hyvärinen and Laura Kumpuniemi.

In their introduction to the collection, the editors say that instead of accepting the destructive patterns and hierarchies penetrating the economy “we are looking for economic forms that are based on horizontal relations and the principle of equity. Community economy initiatives represent a qualitatively better way of seeing and enacting the economy, and are a great source of inspiration on what ‘the economy’ fundamentally could be.”

The editors highlight that there is currently conflict in Nordic welfare states between the ideal or the ethos of the welfare state and current policies, and that the collection considers the potential of community economies to not just revive the ethos of the welfare state but to push it further towards a more strongly sustainable, democratic and horizontal future.

The issues are explored through a series of case studies including on an art centre, food waste as a form of commons, self-organised online ridesharing groups and a food cooperative.

CERN member Pieta Hyvärinen explores small-scale food production in Finland, with a focus on community-supported agriculture and urban beekeeping, and they present a number of perspectives on the opportunities and challenges presented by small-scale food production.

One perspective is that small-scale food production is not only complementary to the ethos of the welfare state but, because it involves radical reductions in production and consumption of energy and use of natural resources, it also might contribute to the transformation of welfare systems.

In the concluding chapter, CERN member Laura Kumpuniemi and Sanna Ryynänen draw on their experiences in Latin America, especially Bolivia and Brazil, to consider what northern community economies might learn from the rich traditions of community and solidarity economies of the Global South, albeit that these traditions are enacted in a very different context from that of strong welfare states.

They highlight how community and solidarity economies in contexts such as Bolivia and Brazil follow a logic that is enacted through practices of reciprocity and cooperation, and the self-organising and non-hierarchical activities of grassroots actors.

They conclude that “the strengthening of community-based alternatives needs to be based on processes that count on learning and reciprocity on local and global levels” and they look to learning possibilities such as those presented by solidarity economy incubators in Brazil and the active role that universities have taken in this context of promoting community and solidarity economies.

Tuomo Alhojärvi and Pieta Hyvärinen were involved (with Eeva Talvikallio) in the updating and adaptation of Elävä talous: Yhteisen tulevaisuuden toimintaopas, the Finnish language version of Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities, and they have a chapter in the Handbook of Diverse Economies on the process of translation.

Christina Jerne and Jenny Cameron