Solidarity Economics: Our Movement, Our Economy

Oct. 22, 2021 | Manuel Pastor, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and American Studies and Ethnicity; Turpanjian Chair in Civil Society and Social Change; director of the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute

With the reconciliation package stalled in Washington, D.C., progressive champions have lamented their failure to capture the public imagination and secure support for a social safety net that fits our 21st-century economy. This is not a new issue. Progressives have often faced difficulties articulating their agenda, frequently getting caught in a game of telephone in which their plans for full inclusion get garbled into pleas for “special interests” and a laundry list of specific policies.

Part of the miscommunication comes from the inability to form a cohesive and simple narrative about the economy that unifies and puts forth an actual value proposition that Americans understand. Instead of pitting fairness against prosperity, we need to highlight how Americans benefit from an economy that works for everyone. A new book that I wrote with my colleague Chris Benner, Solidarity Economics: Why Mutuality and Movements Matter, tries to do exactly that.

We make three central points. The first is that our economy is not some abstract natural phenomenon driven by invisible forces, but rather it is created by people through collaboration and competition. When we have rules that favor self-interest rather than the commons, we get what we designed for. The second is that mutuality can actually lead to better social outcomes and better economic outcomes. For example, research has shown that metropolitan economies that are more equitable actually generate longer and more sustainable economic growth.

Our third point: Because some people benefit from the current system of inequality, social movements for change are critical to economic success both because they shift power and because they help build and broaden our sense of mutuality. Solidarity is both a way to organize our economy and a way to achieve social change.

On Nov. 4 from 4 to 5:30 p.m., the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute and the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Institute for Social Transformation are co-sponsoring a virtual book launch event that will include the authors in conversation with prominent national policy advocates and social movement leaders. And in our own act of solidarity with readers, event registrants will receive a link to download a free copy of the e-book.