Since the 1990's the dominant paradigm on economic thinking has been called neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism advances an argument that market solutions offer the best hope for economic growth and development. However, a bourgeoning literature shows the fallacy of neo-liberal solutions, particularly for the poorest sections of our societies. In fact, some of the criticisms that have been expressed against neo-liberalism have been taken up by institutions that once championed a neo-liberal agenda. Critical perspectives on neo-liberal policies are an important aspect of understanding the prescriptions of more government, less government and open trade. Challenging neo-liberalism however requires progressive civil society organisations to move criticism towards developing alternatives.
Alternative economic perspectives have emerged with a specific focus on poverty eradication in developing countries. Broadly part of a developmental paradigm, this paradigm has sought to indicate the problems of market solutions to poverty, as well as developing alternatives for government spending, taxation, trade and industrial policy. The alternatives perspectives come from a range of actors in civil society, academia, and political parties, feminist and environmental groups. The proposals developed are often exciting and insightful. However, one of the challenges facing this group - which is extremely diverse - is developing proposals that are credible and evidence based.
Trade unions have attempted to meet the challenge of developing economic alternatives often within a developmental paradigm. This has included development of broad civil society coalitions, negotiating social agreements and mass mobilisation. Trade union activity in this area has however been criticised by social movements for being too narrowly focussed on short term gains for members, or even more harshly, that trade unions have become part of the problem as they participate in institutions of economic decision making. Nonetheless, trade unions across the globe have the challenge of developing alternatives, and ensuring that their economic alternatives are focussed on the broader issue of poverty eradication in developing countries.
This page focuses on three areas of building economic alternatives. These are: budgets and the poor; privatisation and the poor and trade and industrial strategy.