Review: BUILD Prosperity

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Loney, Shaun: BUILD Prosperity: Energizing Manitoba’s Local Economy. Winnipeg: BUILD Inc., 2012.

Shaun Loney – the CEO and founder of the internationally recognized BUILD Inc. non-profit – has written a pragmatic yet visionary policy manual for addressing systemic market, environmental, and social issues in Manitoba. Designed as an informational booklet, he webs the issues together with basic language, making the book relevant beyond academia. And despite having a provincial focus, Loney recognizes that the policies inevitably need to be integrated into a national strategy on poverty, energy, and the environment.

The first few chapters of the book are focused on telling the story of BUILD, and the impact it’s having on poverty, crime, and housing in Winnipeg. Essentially, BUILD focuses on training Aboriginals with multiple barriers to employment, and transitioning them to the work force. Most participants enter the program without a high school education, have little to no work experience, or have spent time in the criminal justice system. Yet the program enjoys a high graduation rate, with the large majority also finding work in the construction or trades industry afterward.

Despite being Greg Selinger’s former Special Assistant, and receiving generous funding from Neighbourhoods Alive for BUILD, Loney doesn’t hold back where criticism is due for the provincial NDP’s frustratingly tepid approach to governing. Included are necessary stories, facts, and figures about the effectiveness of BUILD compared to the ‘tough on crime’ strategy. Chapter 1 actually ends up being the most political part of the book – Loney offers a succinct critique of Justice Minister Andrew Swan, sandwiching it between empowering BUILD success stories and facts on the inefficiencies of criminal justice dogma. In this regard, Loney deserves credit for being clear about his political objectives. “Where are the real conservatives when you need them?” he asks.

The second half of the book is more or less a description of policy options for the Manitoba government and Manitoba Hydro, based on examples from parts of the United States and Northern Europe. From this perspective, it is likely directed at influencing government policy and law before the next election.

For the policy wonks out there, Chapter 9 may be the most interesting, as Loney describes how to loop Manitoba Hydro’s Power Smart program into a proposed new Crown utility whose mandate would be to ‘cut’ utility bills for Manitoba residents and improve energy efficiency. He also describes how this could produce thousands of jobs (many of whom could in turn be hired by an expanded BUILD program).

Visionary debate about the merits of Loney’s arguments are inevitable and necessary. But he’s not arguing that installing more Ground Source Heat Pumps will change the way our society is organized. Instead, his theory is that policies that empower the local economy and marginalized peoples shouldn’t be avoided based on pessimism of markets in general.

In this way, the book relates to David McNally’s broader argument about how to approach radical economic transformations – that we should understand economies as overlapping, and from there we can envision models that can undercut neoliberalism and generate support for alternatives.

Loney is not trying to be controversial – in fact, that’s part of the point. BUILD Prosperity is a tool that can be used to introduce new networks of Manitobans to alternative economics and the inefficiencies of neoliberal markets.

Find the book here

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