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Chapter 7 - page 4

There will also be profound repercussions for the community and the family. "Work done by members of households is the central process around which society is structured" Pahl says. This implies that if work is no longer available to a household's members, the structure of society will collapse or change, as has been happening. Wendell Berry, the poet, novelist, university lecturer and Kentucky tobacco farmer, makes exactly this point in a 1988 essay, The Work of Local Culture 19 in which he states that "If there is no household or community economy, then family members and neighbours are no longer useful to each other. When people are no longer useful to each other, then the centripetal force of family and community fails, and people fall into dependence on exterior economies and organizations".

And if the labour of a young adult is no longer needed, he or she will go away, rarely to return, breaking the local succession of the generations. In many communities, children are educated to enable them to move away. "It is felt that this is what they should do.... and this applies as much to urban families as to rural ones" Berry writes. "In the present urban economy, the parent-child succession is possible only among the economically privileged. The children of industrial underlings are not likely to succeed their parents at work and there is no reason for them to wish to do so."

As the children depart, generation after generation, the old stories are no longer told and their birthplace forgets its history and loses its culture:

The loss of local culture is, in part, a practical loss and an economic one. For one thing, such a culture contains, and conveys to succeeding generations, the history of the use of the place and the knowledge of how the place may be lived in and used. For another, the pattern of reminding implies affection for the place and respect for it, and so, finally, the local culture will carry the knowledge of how the place may be well and lovingly used and, moreover, the implicit command to use it only well and lovingly. The only true and effective 'operator's manual for spaceship earth' is not a book that any human will ever write; it is hundreds of thousands of local cultures.

The message of this book is that techniques already exist or can be devised which will lead to a better balance between the industrial world and the local community, that regional cultures can be re-invented and restored and that children can remain in their native place. However, this will only be possible if a handful of people in each of perhaps a hundred communities are prepared to commit themselves to bringing the re-balancing about. Except in a few exceptional communities, all the approaches described in this book have been used in isolation from each other so that there has been no opportunity for synergy to build up. What we must do now is develop ways of using several techniques together so that their true potential can be found. There are tantalising hints about what this might make possible in some of the previous chapters.

Only when a community somewhere has demonstrated that it is possible to build an independent, parallel economy which works really well will large numbers of other communities have the faith to begin to build one themselves and will politicians give the new approach even lukewarm support. For those people who believe that the industrial economy is unsustainable and will continue to threaten livelihoods and democracy if left uncontrolled, there could be no more important task than working in their communities to demonstrate that there is an alternative path for the world.

Yet, strangely, we are reluctant to commit ourselves to doing so. Most of us old enough to be in a position of influence believe, or at least hope, that the environmental and social problems generated by the industrial system can be solved, that the present levels of unemployment and instability in the world economy will prove temporary and that life will resume behaving in the way it did in our childhood, a way we feel we understand. We don't want to have to work out new patterns of behaviour and face new uncertainties. Nor do we want to turn our backs on the prospect of reaping the lavish monetary rewards that the mainstream system promises a chosen few. However, for as long as we chase well-paid jobs in the world economy or believe that the relative safety and certainty that people in many industrial countries once enjoyed can be recreated by politicians who fail to realise why the changes they have made since 1970 have been so destructive, we will put off attempting to build the small-scale economies we must have if we are to secure the future. We will also fail to adopt the radically different attitudes required to make such economies a success.

We cling to our hope that radical changes can be avoided despite the fact that the evidence for the mainstream's failure is all too apparent and even government posts and jobs in profitable companies with dominant market positions are no longer secure. In Ireland in the past, for example, Guinness workers were widely envied their job security, high pay and superior medical and other benefits. Today, they are still highly paid, earning about three times the average industrial wage, but their job security has gone although the company still has 90% of the Irish beer market, invests 40m. a year in its Irish breweries and is hugely profitable: it made 106m. before tax in Ireland on sales of 704m. in 1992. Yet, despite this strength, Guinness has reduced its workforce at its main brewery, St. James's Gate in Dublin, from almost 4,000 in the 1960s to 900 today by a combination of voluntary and involuntary redundancy schemes. "We need to be competitive on an international level" a company spokesman explained in 1993 when he announced a further redundancy programme which will cut employment at the brewery to 500 by the end of the century.

Exactly the same has happened in the US, where the 500 biggest firms - those listed in the Fortune 500 - dispensed with the services of 4.4 million employees between 1980 and 1993. In Britain, hugely profitable companies not directly exposed to international competition including British Gas, BT, the high-street banks and the regional power companies have recently made tens of thousands of well-paid, well-pensioned employees redundant. The result is that for larger and larger numbers of people, secure jobs are just not available. According to Paul Gregg and Jonathan Wadsworth of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research20, only 35.9% of the workforce had secure, full-time positions in 1993 compared with 55.5% in 1975. A two-tier job market was developing, they said, the lower tier characterised by 'higher labour turnover among the least skilled, the young, and the old and those in atypical employment.' Overall, the length of time people held a particular job had fallen by 20%.

These changes are both the challenge and the opportunity. They mean that for many people, including large numbers of the middle class, the type of parallel, local economy we have been discussing is no longer some sort of cranky, optional extra but, in fact, the only realistic way they can build a satisfactory future for themselves and their families.

But I think it unlikely that a satisfactory community would emerge if we set out to build a local economy solely because there was no realistic alternative. Other motives need to be paramount. Perhaps the industrial system's most serious defect is that it fails to recognise that human beings, first and foremost, are social animals who can only be happy and healthy if they belong to a wide range of groups including a family, a community, a circle of friends, a region and a country. Because of this failure, it has put a strong economy before a strong society and bribed us to tolerate the breakdown of social structures and our conversion to single, separate economic agents by offering us consumer goods in compensation. Indeed, it has created a vicious circle, in which the greater the inner emptiness we feel from being cut off from other people by the demands of our work, the harder we need to apply ourselves to that work in order to earn sufficient to buy the system's products in the hope that they will alleviate our basic dissatisfaction with ourselves and the lives we are living.

We must escape this circle. Consequently, whatever we do locally, we must never forget we are trying to build a society rather than an economy. This means that idealism must be at least as important a part of our mental attitude as realism and the prospect of joy and fulfilment for ourselves and our friends must be a much stronger motive than worry about what will happen if things continue as they are.

To the extent that the industrial system's emphasis on individual achievement and competition - which has been described as a process of achieving one's goals by preventing others reaching theirs - either bribes or forces us to do things which damage others, it has to be condemned. The way it makes people feel failures about outcomes which were never under their control is extraordinarily harmful too. In short, the system has damaged us psychologically with both its rewards and its penalties and kept us from relating properly with one another. Its cost has been high, as Robert Lane's paper21, The Road Not Taken, on the relationship between the recent increase in the incidence of mental depression and the breakdown of social links clearly shows.

The fact is that there is no such thing as an individual achievement. Each of us is not only the product of millions of years of evolution but was shaped and affected by other people from the moment we were conceived. As a result, the ideas, attitudes and skills we possess are never truly our own; they are the product of chance, history, genetic inheritance and other people's influences. This makes our contribution, whatever it is, that of the lens - we have merely brought a particular set of factors to a focus. Had Einstein recognised this when, towards the end of his life, he said "I have concentrated too much on the 'I' and not enough on the 'we'"?

Humans are only fully human when we are involved with each other and the majority of us find happiness most easily through collective achievement. If we join our neighbours in the adventure of building a local economy that supplies and supports us all, true happiness, deep joy, is waiting to be found.

Chapter 7 footnotes

1 'Does Studying Economics Inhibit Co-operation?' by Robert Frank, Thomas Gilovich and Denis Regan, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring, 1993.   Back to main text

2 'The Victims of Vanity' in Down to Earth magazine, New Delhi, 15/3/94.   Back to main text

3 This is being done under the framework of Local Agenda 21, the community-level part of Agenda 21, the massive international action plan to promote sustainable development adopted at the UN Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The Sustainable Seattle approach was introduced to Britain by the Sustainable Development Unit of the United Nations Association ( 3, Whitehall Court, London, SW1A 2EL, tel. 0171 839 1784, fax 0171 930 5893) and a 1995 report Sustainability Indicators Research Project: Consultants' Report of the Pilot Phase on how seven councils - Hertfordshire, Merton, Oldham, Fife, Bedfordshire, Leicester and Strathclyde - fared in their first year prepared in association with the New Economics Foundation and Touche Ross Management Consultants is available from the Local Government Management Board, 5th Floor, The Arndale Centre, Luton, Bedfordshire LU1 5BR, tel. 01582 451166, fax 01582 412525, price 15. The UNA has also helped hundreds of villages and parishes in Britain to take stock of their local services, facilities and environmental health using household and individual questionnaires devised and delivered by local people. A pack containing manuals, IBM-compatible computer software, sample questionnaire material and access to a user help line costs 50.  Back to main text

4 (New Society Publishers: Philadelphia, 1991).  Back to main text

5 5 Quoted by David Morris in The Mondragon Co-operative Corporation, (Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Washington DC, July, 1992).  Back to main text

6 Ibid.  Back to main text

7 'Foreign players eye Mondragon', The European, 19/5/95.  Back to main text

8 Talk given at 26th Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, Hamburg, 15/6/95.  Back to main text

9 (Routledge: London, 1985), p.277.  Back to main text

10 G.G.Coulton, Medieval Panorama, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1945), p.291  Back to main text

11 (Methuen: London, 1984), p.16.  Back to main text

12 Draft article, 'A Home in the Briarpatch', ca. 1992.  Back to main text

13 (Random House: New York 1974). "Do the right thing and the money will follow" conveys the spirit of the book.  Back to main text

14 In 'A New Way to do Business', Resurgence, No. 98, May/June, 1983. Reprinted in Health & Community, Mike Money, (Green Books: Totnes, 1993).  Back to main text

15 Telephone interview.  Back to main text

16 (Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, California, 1989).  Back to main text

17 Quoted in The Economist, 18/2/95  Back to main text

18 (Blackwell: Oxford 1984).  Back to main text

19 In What are People For? (North Point Press: San Francisco, 1990).  Back to main text

20 Reported in The Guardian, 3/4/95  Back to main text

21 'The Road Not Taken: Giving Friendship Priority over Commodities' (October, 1994); Available from Professor Lane, Dept. of Political Science, Yale University, PO Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06520.  Back to main text


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