Nowtopia: A Documentary About Economic Alternatives
Masaryk University (2020)
Filmed in the Czech Republic and featuring Nowtopia author Chris Carlsson, this documentary looks at the new economic model (which he calls Nowtopia) that is replacing capitalism. The full title of Carlsson’s book is Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today. The filmmakers also interview Nadia Johanisova, a Czech expert in heterodox economics and eco-social enterprise. Dismayed at the cutthroat capitalism that replaced capitalism in the Eastern Bloc following the fall of the Soviet Union, Johanisova spent years in England seeking possible alternative economic models to capitalism and communism. What she ultimately eventually discovered was that Czechoslovakia had enjoyed a a vibrant independent cooperative movement even under Soviet communism.
Carlsson breaks down Nowtopia into three main components: de-commodified* activities (both old and new), self-provisioning and mutual aid.
He says it’s easier than people think to opt out of a corporate lifestyle and rely on one another (as opposed to money) to meet our needs. Over the last 50 years, the growing exploitation and oppression of paid work has broken up stable communities throughout the industrialized North. This loss of community has led individuals to live atomized and disconnected lives. This, in turn, makes it hard to imagine relying on one another to meet our needs – as humankind has done for hundreds of thousands of years.
Because the COVID economic crisis has hastened the disintegration of many capitalist structures, the entire industrialized world suddenly has an unexpected opportunity to explore alternatives to capitalism.
In Brno (Czech Republic), this takes the form of community gardens and kitchens, cooperative wineries, a bike kitchen*, and a community makerspace,** where volunteers produce free masks, plastic shields and antibacterial gel.
*Decommodification as a concept comes from the idea that in a market economy, individual persons (and their labor) are exchanged for money or “commodified.” Given that labor is the individual’s primary commodity in the market, decommodification generally refers to activities and efforts that reduce individuals’ reliance on the market (and money) for their well-being.
*Bike kitchens help people repair old bikes with secondhand parts instead of discarding them and buying new ones.
***A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that makes a variety of high and low tech tools available to kids, adults and entrepreneurs. Examples of high tech tools include 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines (heavy machines used for cutting wood or other hard material), soldering irons and even sewing machines