SSE, history in the making
Manila – I’m in the national capital attending the 5th international meeting of Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) together with delegates from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North American and Oceania. My pass to this international conference was extended by Victo National and the Cebu NewsCoop.
Over 400 participants have gathered in the University of the Philippines Film Center in Diliman, Quezon City for the four-day global forum, and although my thoughts were on the major calamity that struck Bohol and my beloved home Cebu, I also couldn’t contain my excitement to know more about the state of the SSEs in six continents.
What exactly is SSE?
There are a thousand and one definitions but the basic view of Social Solidarity Economy relates to an alternative economic model that is based on values. I think a key to understand the economic system is to examine the etymology of the word “solidarity.”
By its etymology (French solidarité (“solidarity”), from solidaire (“characterized by solidarity”) and from Latin solidum (“whole sum”), “solidarity” returns to a legal principle. The Latin word solidus refers to the interdependence of the debtors between them. “Each one is engaged, in terms of debt and responsibility, for the whole (in solidum),” according to a web resource.
Another perspective of SSE is to understand economic neo-liberalism or liberal capitalism, the idea that nothing should interfere in the running of the free market.
Liberal capitalism resulted in reduced government control of the economy through policies that enable free trade, deregulation and privatization. These rules which foiled State Socialism were significantly integrated in policies of developed countries in the West that direct the global economy.
The question is, where are we now more than 30 years after the system was introduced?
The collapse of major financial institutions in the United States in 2008 is a good reference because many believe the roots of the financial disaster can be traced to the 1980s when then US president Ronald Reagan came up with policies that enhanced the movement of the so-called free market.
Reaganomics translated to reduced government spending, reduced federal income taxes and reduced capital gains tax. Supply-side economics was supposed to result in trickle down benefits to the majority although critics pointed to political cronies as the real beneficiaries of Reaganomics.
As we know, the 2008 financial crisis also rocked European economies and despite economic stimuli aimed to revive the US economy and other western countries, salvation remains hazy. In fact, the US government grapples with legislative gridlock that led to a shutdown of government operations, all the more advancing the view that the liberal capitalism has miserably failed.
In the Philippines, we can sum up the assessment that under current economic policies, the rich have become richer, while the poor have become bankrupt. And because the economic elite controls the government, the system has resulted in corrupt policies that enable only those at the top to have command over state resources. Think legislative pork barrel and the Malacañang-controlled Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and Malampaya funds.
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In May 2013, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) held a conference on the Potentials and Limits of the Social and Solidarity Economy in coordination with the International Labor Organization. The meeting was aimed to critically assess the role of SSE in “inclusive and sustainable development” as well as push for discussions among international policy circles in relation to 2015.
Apparently, the UNRISD is keenly monitoring the 2015 deadline of the UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, hunger and disease across nations. In other words, the UN may be looking at the SSE as a possible means to accelerate the MDG timetable.
The SSE global forum, also referred to as RIPESS, French acronym for Réseau Intercontinental de Promotion de L’économie Social Solidaire or Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy is held every four years.
The first international meeting was held in Lima, Peru in September 1997 with 400 participants. This was followed by another global encounter in Quebec, Canada in 2001, then in Dakar, Senegal in 2005 with a record 1,200 participants attending.
The last SSE conference was held in Luxembourg in April 2009 with over 700 participants. The Manila Ripess is the 5th of such meetings and it is organized through the Asian Solidarity Economy Council. ASEC is the main driver of SSE in the Philippines and Asia, otherwise known as Ripess Asia and the man at the helm is Dr. Benjamin “Ben” Quiñones.
In any case, despite the anxiety felt by local delegates who got wind of reports that a major earthquake struck Visayan provinces, the Manila Ripess opened last Tuesday without a hitch.
The first plenary was keynoted by Mr. Michael Lewis, Executive Director of the Canadian Center of Community Development Interventions. In his “Overview of Social Solidarity Economy,” Mr. Lewis offered a picture that the world’s resources “have been relentlessly consumed to its limits.”
According to Lewis, the present global development framework is controlled by the unholy trinity, i.e., free markets, free trade and free flow of capital. He cited the urgency of “to shift the growth to a one earth economy.”
“The world should focus its priorities on providing the basic needs such as food, energy and shelter while being aware to live within its limits.”
He added that people need to reclaim control over financial resources and that the community should take the lead in localizing ownership of resources.
“It’s no longer about us, it is about us and creation,” Lewis stressed.