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Charley Ice on the “New Economy” and Philanthropy

This post was authored by Charley Ice, who is an active member of EPIP-Hawaii. Charley grew up in Yosemite and studied sociology and political science at Berkeley in the Vietnam era, followed by a masters in urban planning in Hawaii. He’s been in Hawaii for 40 years, and is a proponent of Hawaiian issues, environmental and social justice issues, in addition to holding interests in economics and current events. Charley chairs the Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party, and serves as a union shop steward at his office in the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, where they tackle cutting edge issues in the public trust. He is also a boardmember of the Hawaii People’s Fund, a small seed-grant agency focused on social and environmental justice, whose motto is “change, not charity”. 

A life-long student of governance always in search of social and environmental justice, I have found the world of philanthropy to be eye-opening. It’s my own personal trajectory and my meanderings through a variety of experience that have given me this perch, and philanthropy had provided an important window. With a degree in sociology/political science from Berkeley during the late ‘60s heyday and a subsequent masters in urban planning, my experience has touched governing a food cooperative, a labor union, a broad variety of volunteer organizations, natural resource administration, and most recently some educational institutions.

When I say eye-opening, I mean not so much a revelation as a window of insight. I joined the board of the Hawaii People’s Fund a couple of years ago and then EPIP, and several things have come home to me. At this particular juncture, I’ve been exploring the “new economy” that is imperative for the sake of survival even more than merely prospering during a difficult time. I started in ecological economics, and have come home to recent developments building an economy around “the commons” – still a novel concept among urban folks thoroughly colonized by the predations of market economics.

Philanthropy fits the commons perspective especially well. The future depends upon a sharing mentality – not in the sense of charity or even altruism, but in the sense of wresting control of our communities, our bodies, our culture from the narrowing precepts of the enclosing market, with increasing litigiousness marking the history of its failure. As has been elegantly pointed out by some very ordinary heroes, our satisfaction in life is actually borne of giving of ourselves, not commanding material success. The two are antithetical, and it is my point.

Before continuing, some salient notes are due on this last point. Market economics as we know it originated with Enlightenment philosophers arguing against the corruptions of mercantilism in Europe, as a vehicle of the natural order of things working mysteriously in the public interest. It went almost immediately astray, even as those philosophers warned it could, and we have the material success of capitalism and its “free market” pretentions slowly encircling all we hold dear for the sake of private property control. The “new economy” offers hope to reverse this ugly history. The new economy recognizes that material transactions nest within social and cultural milieu, which in turn reside within the limitations of a natural world functioning from time immemorial as an ecology. The new economy responds to community needs and human fulfillment by charging a fee to hold currency, the reverse of today’s infamously usurious practices. Consequently, it moves money through community activity, building capacity of humans to fulfill our endowment as humans, in contradiction to the depraved indifference of the litigious material economy.

The commons is our human birthright. It is the larger history, philosophy, spirituality, environment, and age-old material condition of sufficiency. It is not about convenience, acquisition, and control of others. the two are antithetical. My experience among the practitioners of philanthropy has brought home the spirit of giving and beauty so rarely seen outside this sphere.

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