THE ALTERNATIVE, SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY --
THE SIMPLER WAY.
(Full account; 28 pp.)
Given the limits to growth analysis of our global predicament we have no choice but to undertake radical changes in lifestyles, values, the geography of our settlements and especially the economy.
We must move to The Simpler Way, enabling far lower rates of resource consumption and environmental damage. This must mean materially simpler lifestyles, in highly self-sufficient and cooperative communities, within an economy that is not driven by market forces and profit and that does not grow over time.
The Simpler Way would not involve hardship or giving up modern technology. It would improve the average quality of life. It would easily be achieved ... if enough of us opted for it.
The ways required are being worked for in many communities around the world, especially within the eco-village and transition Towns movements.
Our present consumer-capitalist society, based on market forces, the profit motive, affluent living standards and economic growth, is grossly unsustainable and unjust. It has run into the limits to growth. Our per capita resource use rates are around ten times as great as would be sustainable if all people were to live as we do. Our rich-world “living standards” could never be extended to all the world’s people. We could not have them if we were not taking far more than our fair share of the world’s resource output, leaving about six billion people in the Third World to live in deprivation and poverty. (For the detailed explanation of the global situation see the first section in The Simpler Way.)
Now if this limits analysis of our situation is valid then some of the key principles for a sustainable society are clear and indisputable.
-- Material living standards must be far less affluent. In a sustainable society per capita rates of use of resources must be a small fraction of those in rich countries today.
-- A very different economic system must be developed, one not driven by market forces or the profit motive, and in which there is no growth. It must be geared to meeting needs and maintaining the welfare of all. (This does not mean there can be no private firms or private property.)
-- There must be mostly small scale highly self-sufficient local economies, whereby local resources are devoted to meeting local needs.
--There must be mostly cooperative and participatory systems whereby small communities control their own affairs, e.g., through town assemblies.
-- There must be much use of alternative technologies, which minimise the use of resources, such as organic gardening and building with earth.
-- We must shift to some very different values, especially away from competition and individualism, and acquisitiveness, to frugality, cooperation, caring and non-material sources of enjoyment.
A very satisfactory society based on these principles can imagined, and it could be developed easily and quickly… if people wanted to do that. We could all live well with a far smaller amount of production, consumption, work, resource use, trade, investment and GNP a than we have now. This would allow us to escape the economic treadmill and to devote our lives to more important things than producing and consuming, activities such as arts and crafts, gardening, community development, festivals, helping to run the economy, and personal development. More important, it would enable global problems to be defused because these are mostly due to struggles to secure scarce resources.
Any suggestion of moving to less affluent ways is usually instantly dismissed. This is because people do not realise that The Simpler Way is not a threat to a high quality of life or to the benefits of modern technology. The following discussion is intended to show that in fact The Simpler Way is the key to a greatly improved quality of life, even for those who live in the richest countries. To save the planet we do not need miraculous technical break throughs, or vast amounts of investment. What we mostly need is basically a change in thinking, procedures and values.
We are likely to run into very serious problems in coming years, most obviously a shortage of petroleum. This will jolt people into realising that consumer society is not viable and that radically different ways must be sought. Governments will not and cannot lead the transition to a Simpler Way. It can be made only by people coming together in their towns and suburb to start organising the frugal, cooperative and self-sufficient ways that will be required.
Following is an elaboration of the arrangements we need to establish in our new suburbs and towns derived from the foregoing principles. These should be understood as the initial steps to be gradually taken within existing society over a period of decades. In the more distant future we will have become clearer about what are the best arrangements and it is likely that we will opt to go well beyond the measures sketched here, for instance to completely eliminate any need for a market economy.
Living more simply does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means being content with what is sufficient for comfort, hygiene, efficiency etc. Most of our basic needs can be met by quite simple and resource-cheap devices and ways, compared with those taken for granted and idolised in consumer society. How many pairs of shoes would suffice? How big a house would be quite adequate? There is no hardship in wearing old and patched clothes most of the time, or keeping an old bike going.
Living in materially simple ways can greatly reduce the amount of money a person needs to earn. Consider housing. A perfectly adequate, and indeed beautiful small mud brick house for a small family could be built for well under $(A)15,000 ($2014). The average home buyer pays at least ten times too much for a house (excluding land.) (See TSW: Housing and Building.) This indicates how The Simpler Way will liberate people from having to earn large amounts of money, enabling most of their time to be put into more fulfilling activities. Various advocates of simplicity throughout history, such as Thoreau, realised the importance of liberating oneself from enslavement to pursuing wealth and status to be able to do fulfilling things.
Living in ways that minimise resource use should not be seen as an irksome effort that must be made in order to save the planet. These ways can become important sources of life satisfaction. There can be great enjoyment in activities such as growing food, "husbanding" resources, making rather than buying, recycling, composting, repairing, bottling fruit, giving old things to others, making things last, and running a relatively self-sufficient household economy. These many sources of life satisfaction are discussed in TSW; The Case for Simplicity, and TSW: Your Delightful Day.
In the new society the household and neighbourhood will be the centre of most people’s lives. They will only need to go to paid work one or two days a week (below). There will be many interesting skills to use in productive and leisure activities around the house, garden and neighbourhood, and in a well organised community there will be many festivals, concerts, working bees, art and craft groups and other activities to participate in.
So The Simpler Way is actually the richer way, in terms of life satisfactions. It aligns with the Buddhist goal of a life "simple in means but rich in ends."
We must develop as much self-sufficiency as we reasonably can at the national level, meaning less trade, at the household level, and especially at the neighbourhood, suburban, town and local regional level. Most importantly we need to convert our presently barren suburbs into thriving regional economies which produce most of what they need from local resources. Households can again become significant producers of vegetables, fruit, poultry, preserves, fish, repairs, furniture, entertainment and leisure services, and community support.
Neighbourhoods would contain many small businesses such as the local bakery. Some of these could be decentralised branches of existing firms, enabling most of us to get to work by bicycle or on foot. Most of the basic goods and services will come from within a few kilometres of where we live, so there will be far less need for transport, or for cars to get to work. Therefore we could dig up many roads, greatly increasing city land area available for community gardens, workshops, ponds and forests. Leisure will also be mostly localised, further reducing car use.
Households and backyard businesses engaged in craft and hobby production could provide most of our honey, eggs, clothing, crockery, vegetables, furniture, fruit, fish and poultry. It is much more satisfying to produce most things in craft ways rather than in industrial factories. However it would make sense to retain some larger mass production factories and sources of materials, such as mines, steel works and railways. There will be no need to give up valuable high tech ways. (Below.)
Almost all food could come from within a few hundred metres of where we live, most of it from within existing towns and suburbs. The sources would be, a) intensive home gardens, b) community gardens and cooperatives, such as poultry, orchard and fish groups (using ponds, tanks, streams and lakes), c) many small market gardens located within and close to suburbs and towns, d) extensive development of commons, especially for production of fruit, nuts, fish, poultry, animal grazing, herbs, and many materials such as bamboo, clay and timber.
The scope for food self-sufficiency within households and small communities is extremely high. It takes about 0.5 ha, 5,000 square metres, to feed one North American via agribusiness. However Jeavons (2002) and also Blazey (1999) document the capacity for a family of three to feed itself from less than one backyard, via intensive home gardening, high yield seeds, multi-cropping, nutrient recycling, and eating mostly plant foods. Blazey documents production of 1000 times as much food from each square metre of home gardening as can come from the same area devoted to standard beef production.
Most of your neighbourhood could become a Permaculture jungle, an "edible landscape" crammed with long-lived, largely self-maintaining productive plants, especially on the public spaces, parks, footpaths and the roads that have been dug up. In addition backyards and parks can produce large amounts of vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, poultry, rabbits and fish. Food production would involve little or no fuel use, ploughing, packaging, storage, refrigeration, pesticides, marketing or transport. Having food produced close to where people live would enable all nutrients to be recycled back to the soil through compost heaps, animals, composting toilets and garbage gas units. Therefore there would be no need for sewers, pumping stations or treatment works. This is crucial -- a sustainable society must have complete nutrient recycling, and therefore it must have a local agriculture.
The local food committee would research what useful plants from around the world thrive in your local conditions, and investigate the development of food, materials, chemical and medicinal products from these. Synthetics would be derived primarily from plant materials. Landscapes would be full of these resources. For instance salad greens, timber, fruit, fibres, oils and craft materials would be growing wild as “weeds” on the commons throughout your neighbourhood.
Meat consumption would be greatly reduced as we moved to eating more plant foods, but many small animals such as poultry, rabbits and fish would be kept in small pens spread throughout our settlements. The animals could be fed largely on kitchen and garden scraps and by free ranging on commons, while providing manure and adding to the aesthetic and leisure resources of our settlements. Some wool, milk and leather could come from sheep and goats grazing meadows within and close to our settlements. The animals would help to recycle all nutrients from households back to soils.
The commons would be of great economic and social value. They would include the community owned and operated woodlots, bamboo patches, herb gardens, orchards, ponds, meadows, sheds, clay pits, machinery, workshops, windmills, water wheels, bicycles, vehicles and buildings for craft groups, drama clubs etc. They can be located in parks, beside railway lines, on abandoned factory sites, and on the many roads that will no longer be needed. The commons would provide many free goods. They would be maintained by the voluntary working bees and committees.
We should convert one house on each block to become a neighbourhood workshop, including community tools, a recycling store, craft centre, meeting place, surplus exchange, theatre, museum, art gallery and library.
Settlement design will focus on basically Permaculture principles, such as the intensive use, “stacking”, of all food producing niches within a space, complex ecosystems (not monocultures), multiple cropping and overlapping functions e.g., poultry provide meat, eggs, feathers, pest control, cultivation, fertilizer and leisure resources. These techniques will enable huge reductions in the present land area and energy costs for the provision of food and materials.
It will not be necessary for everyone to be involved in agricultural activities. Providing food now takes perhaps one-fifth of work time, when transport, packaging and marketing are added to the farm work. That’s about eight hours a week per worker. Intensive home gardening might require only about four person-hours per week per household, so averaged across the town and including small farms food production would probably require well below the present amount of time going into food production. The difference derives from the much greater productivity of home gardens and small farms, and the elimination of much intermediary work, such as transport and packaging, (and producing all those trucks etc.). In addition much food production would be a leisure activity.
There is much scope for community self-sufficiency in many areas beyond food, notably entertainment, infrastructure maintenance, services, aged care, education, building and repairs. When communities take on more of these functions they become more resilient and cohesive.
This shows how the solution to many problems will mostly involve carrots rather than sticks. We will reduce travel not by penalties but by eliminating the need for most of it, by ensuring that work and leisure sites will be close to where we live.
To repeat, a high level of domestic and local economic self-sufficiency is crucial if we are to dramatically reduce overall resource use. It will cut travel, transport and packaging costs, and the need to build freeways, ships and airports etc. It will also enable our communities to become resilient, that is more secure from devastation by distant economic events such as depressions, devaluations, interest rate rises, trade wars, capital flight, and exchange rate changes.
Local self-sufficiency means we will be highly dependent on our region and our community. Because most of our food, energy, materials, leisure activity, artistic experience and community will come from the soils, forests, people, ecosystems and social systems close around us we will all recognise the extreme importance of keeping these in good shape. We will realise that if we do not do this we will have to pay dearly for goods and services brought in from other regions. This will force us to think constantly about the maintenance of our ecological, technical and social systems. This will be the main reason why we will treat our ecosystems well -- because if we don’t we will soon wish we had.
Similarly we will clearly understand that our welfare and quality of life depends almost entirely on how cohesive our social systems are, how well people come to working bees and committees and concerts. Therefore dependence will reinforce cooperation, collectivism, conscientiousness and town solidarity.
For a detailed analysis of what might be done in a typical Sydney suburb see TSW: Remaking East Hills. This study estimates that most food could be produced within the suburb, probably enabling energy and resource costs to be cut by 90%, while greatly increasing social and quality of life benefits.
However towns and suburbs will also need to import a variety of goods and materials that they cannot produce for themselves, such as radios, boots, appliances, cement pipes and steel. Some of these will come from regional factories near towns, within bicycling distance for workers. Others, such as the national steel works, might be a long way away, distributing by rail. Towns near the steel works would pay for their imports from other factories and regions by contributing to the steel exports to them. This points to the very important role for the (remnant) state bureaucracies. There will have to be careful national organisation of the distribution of these export opportunities, so that all towns can contribute to the production of exports via factories located near them, thus earning the capacity to import that (small) volume of goods and materials they need. (This would involve elaborate state-level planning, implementation and restructuring, which will only become possible when people in general support the replacement of the market mechanism as the determinant of economic organisation. See further below.)
The Simpler Way will dramatically cut the demand for energy and materials. Lifestyles will involve far less consumption, and because it will be a stable economy few resources will be going into construction. Just about all “wastes” will be recycled and reused. There will be benefits from overlaps and synergisms, for instance keeping ducks will eliminate the need to produce snail killing chemicals.
In general solar passive building design will greatly reduce the need for space heating and cooling. As explained above, almost no (non-human) energy will be needed for food production. Only a little energy will be needed for pumping clean and waste water, as these will be collected and dealt with locally. The need for transport, refrigeration, packaging and marketing will be greatly reduced. Most leisure needs will be met within the settlement at little energy cost. Industrial production will be greatly reduced, and most of it will take place in small local enterprises operating in more labour-intensive ways. Only a little heavy industry will be needed, e.g. basic steel, railways, buses, and therefore mining and timber industries will be small. There will be little need for shipping or air transport. Most cooking would be by wood, or gas produced from biomass wastes.
Local self-sufficiency in leisure.
Leisure and entertainment are major cost items in consumer society. At present leisure time is mostly spent in the passive consumption of experience produced by corporations or professionals, especially via TV and IT, in travel or consuming goods and services. The quality of most of this material is “spiritually” negligible if not negative, evident in the mindless TV soap operas, game shows and crime dramas, and especially the violence and destruction in computer “games”. Much leisure time and expenditure at present goes into purchasing; shopping is a form of entertainment.
Simpler way settlements and lifestyles are very leisure-rich. They surround people with activities, working bees, expert artists and craftsmen, and a landscape full of beautiful gardens and leisure resources. Any town or suburb includes many very talented musicians, singers, storytellers, actors, comedians and playwrights, presently unable to do their thing because the globalised entertainment industry only needs a few super-stars. These people will thrive, having several days a week to practise their art and being appreciated for their (largely unpaid) contributions to the many local gatherings, concerts and festivals.
Much more leisure time will be spent in creative and social activities, as distinct from the increasingly private involvement in computerised leisure pursuits today. In addition much leisure time will be spent in productive activities, such as gardening, making things and arts and crafts. And much will be spent reading, thinking and learning, and doing formal courses. We will have the time to work on the issues that are important to our personal development.
The community would be a spontaneous leisure resource. A walk around the town would involve one in conversation, observations of activities in familiar firms, farms and mini-factories, and the enjoyment of a beautifully gardened landscape. Contributing to working bees would be interesting. Then there would be the festivals, celebrations, concerts, visits, field days, and the mystery tours organized by the leisure committee.
In these new enriched physical and cultural landscapes there would be far less interest in the purchase of leisure or entertainment services. People would be busy with interesting tasks and projects. Thus it is likely that there would be far less desire than there is now to purchase leisure and entertainment, or to travel for leisure, let alone to travel overseas.
Redundancy and resilience, independence and security.
In consumer-capitalist society the pressure to cut costs has produced extreme dependence on complex and fragile systems beyond the control of ordinary people. You can’t repair your own car; you need experts to fix everything. If one global bank fails it could trigger a meltdown in which we could all lose our savings. If oil supply falters the supermarket shelves could be bare in a few days.
In highly self-sufficient Simpler Way communities technologies are mostly very simple, supply chains are local, and most people are able to make and fix just about everything. There is in other words a great deal of redundancy; many people can repair the windmill. The global economy can self-destruct and we will still be able to provide ourselves with good food. If a flood wipes out an orchard we have many others. This makes our communities relatively safe from breakdowns elsewhere, and it makes them resilient, capable of getting around challenges.
MORE COMMUNAL, PARTICIPATORY AND
The third essential characteristic of the alternative way is that it must be very communal, participatory and cooperative. This will be essential if communities are going to cope in the coming times of severe scarcity. They will not get their localities into good shape unless they work together to find and develop the right strategies. If their attitude remains focused on competitive struggle as an individual to win and beat others to an unjust share of the available resources there will be chaos.
The sensible way for humans to go about things is by cooperating. Competition is morally undesirable, and in most practical situations is silly, wasteful and results in unfair outcomes. A competitive economy is obviously very productive and has powerful incentives for "efficiency" (narrowly defined), and innovation -- but it has brutally unacceptable consequences. The problem with competition is that someone wins…and then takes much more than their fair share. There is clear evidence that in many situations, including education and within organisations, competing is the worst, most inefficient way to organise things (See for instance A. Kohn, No Contest.) When people compete much of their energy goes into thwarting others, whereas if they cooperate all their energy can go into achieving the mutual goal. When people compete one gets the prize and the rest get resentful, and then are likely to react destructively. When competition is the mode, nastiness is encouraged. When people cooperate goodness magnifies; there is synergism.
In our new suburbs and towns we will share many things. We could have a few stepladders, electric drills, etc., in the neighbourhood workshop, as distinct from one in every house. Many garden surpluses would be given away or left at the neighbourhood centre.
We would be on various voluntary rosters, committees and working bees to carry out most of the windmill maintenance, construction of public works, child minding, nursing, basic educating and care of aged and disadvantaged people in our area, as well as to perform most of the functions councils now carry out for us, such as maintaining our own parks and streets. In addition working bees and committees would maintain the many commons. We would therefore need far fewer bureaucrats and professionals, reducing the amount of income we would have to earn to pay taxes to fund big government. When we contribute to working bees we are paying some of our “tax”, by giving to the town.
Especially important would be the regular voluntary community working bees. Just imaging how rich your neighbourhood would now be if every Saturday afternoon for the past five years there had been a voluntary working bee doing something that would make it a more pleasant and productive place for all to live. (The Remaking East Hills document explains that the suburb could easily be putting 10,000 person-hours of voluntary working bee labour into community gardens, services and infrastructure maintenance each week.)
There would be far more community than there is now. We would realise the importance of coming together to work on the mutually beneficial systems our welfare depended on. People would know each other well through interacting on communal projects. Because all would realise that their welfare depended heavily on how well we looked after each other and our ecosystems, there would be powerful incentives for mutual concern, facilitating the public good, improving arrangements, and making sure others were content. The situation would be quite different to consumer-capitalist society where people tend to live as isolated individuals and families with little or no incentive to work with others in the neighbourhood on important community tasks. We would know many people in our area well and there would be strong bonds from appreciated contributions, sharing of surpluses, giving of gifts and mutual assistance. One would certainly predict a huge decrease in the incidence of personal and social problems and their dollar and social costs. The new neighbourhood would surely be a much healthier and happier place to live, especially for older people.
Our life experience will mainly be enriched not by personal wealth or talents, but by having access to public assets such as a beautiful landscape containing many forests, ponds, animals, herb patches, bamboo clumps, clay pits, little farms and firms, and leisure opportunities close to home, a neighbourhood workshop, familiar people ready to advise or assist, many cultural and artistic groups and skilled people to learn from, community festivals and celebrations and a thriving and supportive community.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS.
The political situation would be quite different compared with today. Most “governing” would take place at the town and neighbourhood level, where there would (have to) be thoroughly participatory democracy. This would be made possible by the smallness of scale, and it would be vitally necessary. Big centralised governments cannot run all our small localities. That can only be done by the people who live there because they are the only ones who understand the ecosystem, who know what will grow best there, how often frosts occur, how people there think and what they want, what the history and traditions are, and therefore what strategies will and won’t work there.
Some projects and policies would be drafted by elected unpaid committees but we would all vote on the important decisions concerning our small area at regular town meetings. There would still be some functions for state and national governments, but relatively few, and there would still be some need for national governments and international agencies, treaties etc. But the focus of most economic and political activity that affects ordinary people every day would be on the town and local region.
Big social institutions, such as states, can only be run by a very few people with immense power. These then tend to become arrogant and secretive, and are easily seduced, bought or fooled by the richest and most powerful groups in society. The smallness of scale we will be forced to by resource scarcity will liberate us from rule by centralised governments, and from representative democracy.
Thus our intense dependence on our ecosystems and social systems will radically transform politics, towards collectivism and responsible citizenship. The focal concern will (have to) be what policies will work best for the town and region. Politics will not be primarily about individuals and groups in zero-sum competition to get what they want from a central state. There will be powerful incentives towards a much more collectivist and consensual outlook. We will all know that we must find solutions all are content with because we will be highly dependent on good will, people turning up to committees, working bees, celebrations and town meetings. Your fate will depend on how well the town functions, not on your personal wealth and capacity to buy. We will therefore be keen to find and do whatever will contribute to town solidarity and cohesion. The town will work best if there is a minimum of discontent, conflict, inequality or perceived injustice, so all will recognise the need to make sure all are provided for and none are dumped into unemployment or poverty. We will realise it is important to avoid decisions that leave some people unhappy. Thus the situation of dependence on our ecosystems and on each other will require and reinforce concern for the public good, a more collectivist outlook, taking responsibility, involvement, and thinking about what’s best for the town.
The core governing institutions will be voluntary committees, town meetings, direct votes on issues, and especially informal public discussion in everyday situations. In a sound self-governing community the fundamental political processes take place informally in cafes, kitchens and town squares, because this is where the issues can be discussed and thought about until the best solutions come to be generally recognised. The chances of a policy working out well depend on how content everyone is with it. Consensus and commitment are best achieved through a slow and sometimes clumsy process of formal and informal consideration in which the real decision making work is done long before the meeting when a vote is taken. Usually votes would not occur. Their main function would be to show how close we are to agreeing. If the vote is split it means we have a lot more talking to do. Note that with a question such as what to plant in the old parking lot the aim is to work out what is best for the town and this is usually a technical question that more evidence and discussion will clarify. In general the aim is not to get a decision that suits one group and disadvantages another. “Politics” therefore will be very different from the present business of trying to get a 51/49 vote that forces many to go along with the majority
So politics will again become participatory and part of everyday life, as was the case in Ancient Greece. Note that this is not optional; we must do things in these participatory ways or the right decisions for the town will not be made.
The political situation described is in fact classical Anarchism. In general people at the local level will govern themselves via informal discussion, referenda and town meetings. We will not be governed by centralised authoritarian states and bureaucracies, nor by representatives. At present representatives are elected and then they govern us.
Governing your town would involve a lot of monitoring, reviewing, research and administration but most of this could be carried out by voluntary committees. Some paid bureaucrats and experts will probably be needed, but people will have a lot of time to volunteer for these public activities, and the systems involved would mostly be technically simple (e.g., running town waste water to orchards and ponds.) The remarkable citizen-run government carried out by the Spanish anarchists in the 1930s involved much monitoring and record keeping of needs, resources and production.
It is also important to understand that the people of your town would not just participate in making the decisions; they would also participate in implementing them. We would (have to) organise the working bees, the monitoring, the resources etc., firstly because in the era of scarcity councils will not be able to do all this for us, but more importantly, because we will do the job best, and enjoy the control over developing and running our town, and doing these things build town solidarity.
Most issues will be local, not national, but there will be some tasks left for state and national governments involving professional experts and administrators, such as coordinating national steel and railway industries, and especially distributing industries to enable all towns to earn export income. These decisions will not be made by centralised “authorities” who have power over us. The classical Anarchist principle involves delegates from all the local communities coming together to work out what seems to be the best decision for all concerned, and then taking these recommendations back to the communities where everyone has a vote on what is to be done. Note again that there would be far fewer issues that concern large regions or whole nations, there would be far less “development” to push through despite resistance, and so politics would have little to do with struggles for wealth and power.
Because it will be a stable economy many political issues will have been eliminated, such as struggles over new developments, re-zonings, freeway construction, more mining or logging leases, and especially those to do with trade, foreign investment and finance. Many problems such as unemployment will not exist and many such as aged care will be handled at the local level, again greatly decreasing the need for centralised decision making or bureaucracy.
The revolutionary significance of the kind of “state” described here could not be exaggerated. Throughout history a few central rulers have forced people to obey, but now we have reached a situation where that model cannot work, where sustainable, cohesive communities can only function well if they control their own affairs. Equally profound is the order of events; it cannot be that the new form of “state” comes into being and then establishes the new kinds of communities and culture. Communities determined to run their own affairs must emerge first and in time they will begin to demand radical restructuring of the state so that it supports and serves the towns. (On these questions of transition strategy and ”socialism” see further below.)
THE NEW ECONOMY
There is no chance of making these changes while we retain the present economic system. The fundamental principle in a satisfactory economy would be totally different -– it would be to apply the available productive capacity to producing that stable amount (no growth) of the things all people need for a good life, with as little resource consumption, work and waste as reasonably possible and in ecologically sustainable ways. Our present economy operates on totally different principles. It lets profit maximisation for the few who own most capital determine what is done, it therefore does not meet the needs of most people, and it seeks to increase consumption and GDP constantly. (The detailed discussion of the required economy is given in TSW: The New Economy. Following are notes on key principles and themes.)
Far less work and production will take place.
In the new society levels of consumption will be far lower. As has ben explained the limits issue means that production and consumption must be reduced to small fractions of present levels. We will have eliminated the huge amount of more or less unnecessary production going into things like advertising, packaging transport, construction, cosmetics, waste disposal, sewage treatment, shipping, insurance, junking shoddy goods that don’t last and can’t be repaired, roads and freeways, unemployment agencies, and provision for people who crack up and become mentally ill or take to alcohol or drugs. We will need far less aged care, financial advice, paid entertainment, health care, professionals, car repairs. We will save billions by not having to produce arms any more…because most armed conflict is about trying to take more than a fair share of resources. Many of the things we will need will be produced far less resource-expensive ways, for example we will not need to produce trucks to bring food to cities. There will be far less government, crime, police, illness and need for a "welfare" industry. Consequently there would be far less need for prisons, courts, hospitals, and “welfare” agencies. The savings in dollars and resources would be enormous, not to mention the effects on quality of life. Disabled people will have many important things to do and to contribute, which will reduce the need for tax and professionals to care for them. People will have far more interesting things to do than go shopping, so acquiring and consuming will not be important life purposes. Large numbers of people will not be stressed, depressed, over-worked, worried about mortgages, bored or lacking purpose (...which is the core problem generated by the conditions indigenous people are forced to endure.)
The GDP would be a small fraction of its present value, because we would be producing and consuming relatively little, and most of that would not be within the monetary economy. (No one will calculate or attend to the GDP as it does not tell us anything that matters.)
There would be no economic growth.
As has been explained in detail (in TSW: The Economic System…) a sustainable economy has to be a zero-growth economy. We would produce only as much as is needed to provide all with a high quality of life. In fact we would always be looking for ways of reducing the amount of work, production and resource use. It should be obvious that this does not mean there cannot be improvement and innovation.
Many shops would open only two or three days a week. If you need a pair of shoes you might get them on Tuesday or Saturday. In familiar neighbourhoods some shops and local firms might operate without shop assistants, via stalls where you serve yourself, further reducing the amount of work that needs doing.
Reducing the GDP does not mean that the living standards of the poorest must sink even lower than they are now. The goal is to enable all to have access to all the things that make a high quality of life possible regardless of income, such as community workshops, festivals, free fruit, a humble house, a livelihood, a caring community and a leisure rich environment. The average dollar income and GDP per person would be far lower than they are now, people would be far less wealthy in conventional dollar terms, but the quality of life of all could be far higher than the average now. One will need very little money to live well, and one’s money income or wealth will not influence one’s quality of life. Quality of life will derive primarily from one’s public and social context, such as the landscape, supportive community, festivals and social activities to participate in or observe. Therefore inequality of money income will not be important, and the solution to problems such as poverty will not be via redistribution of income. The “poorest” will have as much access to all these things as anyone else.
Because there can be no economic growth there will not be any interest paid on loans. This means most of the present financial industry will cease to exist. Very different arrangements will have to be made to provide for retirement. Town banks will hold our savings for security, and their elected boards will organise loans for purposes the community decides are worthwhile.
This zero growth situation is a longer term goal, to be moved to gradually. What is easily overlooked is that it means that eventually gain must be completely abandoned. Logically there cannot be a zero-growth economy if there remains any interest in getting richer, either on the part of individuals or nations.
Mostly small, highly self-sufficient local economies.
As has been explained, in a world of scarce resources shared among all, most of the goods and services we use will have to come from close to where we live. Economic self sufficiency should be seen in terms of concentric circles. In the centre is the most important economic and social unit, the household. (This will be more important in most people’s lives than their "career".) Outside this will be the neighbourhood, then the suburb or town where less frequently needed goods and services will be available, e.g., doctors. Then the town’s surrounding region will contain a dairy, timber plantations, grain and grazing lands, and some of the factories that would supply into the surrounding region, e.g., for fridges and radios. Some of these items would be exported out of the region. Much less will come from the state and national economic sectors, and very little from overseas, perhaps some high tech medical or computer equipment.
Few big firms or transnational corporations would be needed. Those that were appropriate, such as steel works, would best be owned and run by society as a whole, to serve society. Their elected boards would be accountable to all, and they would be bound by elected by publicly set policy guidelines.
Market forces and the profit motive
In an acceptable alternative economy market forces cannot be allowed to continue as major determinants of economic affairs. The market is the major cause of global problems, mainly because it cannot yield just or ecologically acceptable outcomes. (See TSW: The Economic System; A radical Critique.) In addition the fundamental motivation within markets is not acceptable. In markets prices are set as high as possible, which means that the driving principle is to maximise self-interest, i.e., it is greed. Price is not set by reference to the cost of production, or the capacity of the seller to make a sufficient income, etc. Markets are about buyers and sellers trying to get as rich as possible, and that is not a satisfactory element in an ideal society. (It is explained below that a satisfactory society is not possible unless there is profound value change, e.g., away from concern with maximising or gain.)
In the distant future what is produced, how it is distributed, and what is to be developed will be relatively unimportant problems decided without fuss by routine rational decision making process which focus on what is needed to give all people a high quality of life. Humans will preoccupy themselves with more important things. However at present we are far from being capable of organising things that way, so in the near future we will probably have an interim arrangement which still uses the market for some purposes but begins to subject it to greater social control, with a view to gradually phasing it out.
So in the near future much of the economy might remain as a (carefully monitored) form of private enterprise carried on by small firms, households and cooperatives. Market forces might operate in carefully regulated sectors. For example the kinds of bicycles on sale could be left entirely to the market. Local market days could enable individuals and families to sell small amounts of garden and craft produce. However the market must not be allowed to determine whether people have jobs or what developments take place in the town. In other words market forces might be allowed to make most of the economic decisions – but none of the important ones! The sector we will develop whereby we will ensure provision of basic necessities, Economy B (below), will be run via deliberate, collective rational decisions about what we need.
Note that an economy containing these small private firms would not be a capitalist economy because these small firms would best regarded as the tools people possess and work with to earn a modest, stable income and thus a secure livelihood. They do not involve investing capital in order to accumulate capital in order to constantly increase investments and wealth. Market forces would never be allowed to settle the distribution of income or the access to livelihood.
In the present economy the idea of having firms under social control is taken to mean big, authoritarian, centralised bureaucracies and states which make and enforce all the economic decisions. This is not necessary or desirable, and will be avoided by having the control with the small localities where citizens can deal with a greatly reduced economic agenda through direct, open and participatory procedures. Again, because local conditions, resources, skills and traditions are the important factors determining how local economies can best function, local people are the ones who know these and are in the best position to make the decisions most likely to satisfy local needs. It will make no sense for distant governments to decide what is best for your town to plant when another of its parking lots has been dug up. Thus the form of social control here has nothing to do with "big-state socialism", as socialism is usually conceived and has mostly been practised.
In making these decisions communities can take into account all relevant moral, social and ecological considerations, not just dollar costs and benefits to capitalists or purchasers. If a firm was struggling, or becoming inefficient we would not let market forces dump those workers or owners into unemployment. We would make community decisions about what to do. We might work out whether assistance, including loans and grants from the town bank, would be appropriate, or whether technical advice is needed. Thus a community might decide to keep a small bakery or boot repairer from going bankrupt because that is best for the town and for the family running it. Or it might decide that it has too many bakers, and work out how best those resources might be reorganised. Similarly the community might decide not to buy from a firm that is sacking people unnecessarily, or threatening to take over other little firms that are viable, depriving people of their livelihoods.
Thus we will be in a position to retain or establish some firms that are important for the town even though they would not survive in a free market situation. These actions protect and subsidise, and therefore involve costs. Goods would be cheaper if purchased from a transnational corporation which can minimise prices. But these costs are among those we will be willing to pay in order to make sure the town runs well.
Although most firms might be privately owned, we would regard the economy as ours; i.e., as arrangements and institutions which the town "owns" and runs in order to provide itself with the basic goods and services it need and to provide its people with livelihoods. So if a transnational corporation came into the town intending to drive our bakery bankrupt and take its business, we could make sure it couldn’t succeed –- simply by refusing to buy from it. Obviously things like this cannot be done without vigilant, caring, public-spirited citizens. Note how the new economic system cannot be thought of separately from the new political system, and neither can function without new values, a new culture.
Provision of livelihood.
Above all these strategies will enable us to ensure that all people have a livelihood. This is very important. The conventional economy sees no problem in allowing those who are most rich and powerful to take or destroy the business, markets and livelihoods of others, and thus accumulate to a few the wealth that was spread among many. Its fundamental design constantly worsens this problem. Globalisation is essentially about the elimination of the livelihoods of millions of people and the transfer to a few giant corporations of their business and the resource they had access to. A satisfactory society will not let this happen. One of its supreme priorities will be to ensure that everyone has a livelihood, and clearly this is only possible if local communities have control of their own local economic development and can operate contrary to market forces.
The town bank and the business incubator.
As has been explained, these will be crucial in giving us control over our own local economic development. They will enable us to devote our savings to setting up the kinds of firms we want.
No unemployment or poverty.
Unemployment and poverty could easily be eliminated. There are none in many kinds of society, such as the early Israeli Kibbutz settlements. We would have neighbourhood work coordination committees who would make sure that all who wanted work had a share of the work that needed doing. (Far less work would need to be done than at present. In consumer society we probably work three times too hard.)
Only one or two days a week working for money!
When we eliminate all that unnecessary production, and shift much of the remainder to backyards, local small business and cooperatives, and into the non-cash sector of the economy, most of us will have little need to go to work for money in an office or a mass production factory. In other words it will become possible to live well on a very low cash income earned by only one or two days paid work per week. We could spend the other five or six days working/playing around the neighbourhood doing many varied and interesting and useful things everyday.
The Simpler Way there will be far less emphasis on work and production and economic affairs, and therefore, much less stress and worry, and human attention will shift to much more important things.
The large money-less domain.
Many and possibly most goods and services will come from the household sector (which at present is where most of the work and producing actually takes place) and the local commons and cooperatives. These will probably not involve any money, wages, prices or payments. That is, all goods will be "free". Many people might live almost entirely within this money-less realm.
It is very likely that as the coming era of severe scarcity impacts, especially regarding petroleum, we will quickly, automatically and inevitably build up this money-less sector -- because we will have to.
The short term vs the long term future.
As we increase the money-less sector in the near future there will still be many normal firms operating within the continuing normal market economy. However these firms will be running into very serious difficulties as scarcity, especially scarcity of petrol. At best there is likely to be a slow descent into serious and lasting depression, but more likely will be sudden crashes, especially within the financial world.
Let's proceed as if the troubles will come upon us in a relatively gradual and non-chaotic way. Two important things will happen at the same time; the town will recognise a vital need for important businesses to function effectively -- and those firms will recognise their utter dependence on the town. These two forces will push us to organise cooperatively and rationally, i.e., to intervene and take action to make sure that we keep those vital firms going well. Local small businesses will realise how important our assistance is and they will understand that if they don't do what the town needs we will not buy from them. We will need them so we will help them to work well, e.g., by organising working bees and loans.
So when scarcity impacts we will move quickly to a largely socially-controlled local economy, in which many firms will remain privately owned, will operate for profit and will respond to market forces, but in which the much more important determinants of their performance and welfare will be the deliberate decisions the town makes. If the town sees that it can meet some needs better by setting up its own cooperatives in that area of the economy then the old firms will phase out. (The town would organise for the labour, experience and skill of the small business people in that area to move into the new co-ops.)
The town or suburb will therefore remake its economy, because it will see that it has to if it is to survive. Thus the forces at work in the new situation of scarcity will inevitably push us in the right direction, i.e., towards much social control, participatory processes and cooperative and collectivist outlooks. If we don't take this control over our fate, but leave it to the market, we will quickly descend at best into stagnation, as in the Great Depression, where market forces cannot make the right things happen and they trap us in the ridiculous situation where productive capacity sits idle while the needs it could be meeting fester on.
People will realise that firms that are failing tie up crucial productive resources that they could redeploy. They will realise that their prospects will be best if they take deliberate planned action and if they try to provide well for all, because no one will be able to survive on their own. Their mutual dependence will be glaringly obvious. It will be clear to people that their fate depends on the town working well, on cooperation, on focusing clear thinking and planning on what we all need around here, on being responsible and on helping others. In affluent times there is no needs to think like this. Because we will realise that we need bread we will realise that we must help the local bakers to live well. We will need carrots so we will have to make sure the farmers do well. They can't provide carrots unless nutrients are returned to the soil, so we must make sure the recycling systems work well, so we must attend those working bees. Behold the powerful hidden hand of the non-market!
In the short term future this sector involving the remaining privately owned firms will continue to operate partly according to market forces. These firms will include those seeking to make a living selling non-necessities, and the town might opt to assist some of these, because they cater to leisure or semi-luxury interests some people enjoy. The town’s core concern is only to ensure that its economy provides basic necessities for all, so it need not interfere with those who want to produce or sell other things, so long as that does not unduely impact on town resources etc.
As time goes by it will become clearer to all whether to retain a market sector, and if so what to allow it to do. My expectation is that eventually it will become apparent that it is best to organise all economic activity via rational collective decision making. This does not have to mean no privately owned firms. It is desirable that families and cooperatives should be able to own and operate their own ventures, but this might best be organised within an overall plan that ensured that everyone was contributing to meeting town needs, including cultural and leisure needs. This would enable the undesirable moral and social effects of the market to be completely avoided.
The new economic conditions will help us.
Our capacity to make the new economy work satisfactorily will be
greatly increased by the fact that the situation will be very different from
the present one.
Economies will be far simpler, with far less produced. They will be mostly local, meaning far less trade and transport to organise. Most firms will be very small.
There will be little infrastructure development; no gigantic airport, freeway or nuclear reactor construction. There will be no interest payments, and this will sweep away most of the finance industry with its problem-generating speculation. There will be no growth, so economies will be mostly about managing stable systems. Above all there will be clear recognition of mutual dependence; we will all realise that if we don’t make our local economy work well we will all be in a lot of trouble. These conditions will make it much easier for us to cooperate in getting the new economies going.
Economic motivation, efficiency, restructuring and innovation.
These are the most difficult issues for the design of a satisfactory economy. Conventional economists are adamant that there is no realistic alternative to leaving these processes to competition within the market. The market certainly acts quickly and decisively to maximise "efficiency" but it does so in an unacceptably brutal, unjust and wasteful way. How then might these tasks be carried out in the eventual economy of The Simpler Way? The argument below is that this will not be so difficult, mainly because of the historically novel conditions The Simpler Way will set.
Work motivation and efficiency.
In the household and community sectors of the new economy there will be no problem getting people to work conscientiously. People will enjoy running a thriving household economy and participating in the working bees that make their locality into a beautiful, rich landscape providing abundantly. They will also know that their welfare depends heavily on making these sectors work well. “Workers” in for example regional bolt factories would be conscientious because they get satisfaction from making a valued contribution, participating in the management of the plant, working at a relaxed pace (maybe only two days a week)…and all the operations of the factory would be highly visible (see below on monitoring.)
But what if one of our bakeries started to become inefficient, or if someone wanted to set up another bakery when we had enough, believing he could do the job more efficiently than the others? And if all knew that the town would not let market forces dump them into bankruptcy, what would ensure that firms kept on their toes?
In these cases the town would have a problem which it would have to grapple with deliberately and not leave to market forces. It might examine the situation and decide to help a failing firm to lift its game, possibly with advice, loans or training. It might eventually decide a firm is no longer viable or needed, but it would restructure sensibly, by working out another productive role that family might like to move to, and how best to re organise the resources. The town might decide to let the new bakery compete with the others, then intervene when it is clear which one would best be phased out. Remember that all people would realise that the supreme goal is to organise for all people in the town to have a livelihood and for there to be just enough firms to provide the town with the things it needs.
Adjusting supply to demand.
The market is usually assumed to be the only way to decide supply. It is taken for granted that planning by central bureaucracies as was the case in the Soviet Union is absurdly unsatisfactory. But supply is in fact presently organised through millions of deliberate rational planning decisions, based on information from shops etc. on what is being demanded. The massive bureaucracy that does this is located within shops and firms. With computers there would now be no difficulty determining what is being demanded, what faults there are in the product design, what supply bottlenecks there are, etc. Remember, economies would be far simpler than present economies, and the social/public planning might only need to apply to basic necessities.
The core problem is making sure that producers and suppliers respond to demand satisfactorily, and from time to time introduce new products. At present entrepreneurs respond quickly because they are in desperate competition for sales. In the new economy this mechanism will be replaced by a) the desire of factory managements (i.e., boards including representatives of all workers and members of the community) to provide what people want, b) again the fact that all operations and decisions would be completely visible to the public, c) the access all have to information from all around the world on how well similar factories are performing elsewhere.
R and D.
Research and development is always best carried out in public institutions. There is no reason to think that salaried scientists perform better in private corporations. Most importantly, when the agencies are public we can make sure they research important problems, as distinctly from only those that will maximise corporate profits. This is very important; corporations ignore the most urgent human needs, such as drugs for malaria, because they can make more from developing trivial cosmetic etc. for rich countries.
Monitoring and public accounting.
We would also have extensive arrangements and institutions for monitoring performance, problems, needs, possible innovations, for all our firms and other institutions and systems. This information would be quickly available for all to examine. Also available will be analyses of quality of life indices, footprint, resource use etc. These systems would enable us to be aware of performance in other towns and sites around the world. The purpose would be helpful not punitive; i.e., to enable us to see where our local systems and firms can be improved, and what assistance they need. This would be one of the many functions carried out by our voluntary committees. (It was a most important element in the success of the Spanish anarchist government in the 1930s.)
In the period of transition to The Simpler Way small communities will create their own new money systems and currencies (e.g., LETS) to use in their Economy B. This "new money" can be thought of as simple tokens indicating how much value one has contributed and therefore how much one has the right to take from the produce others have contributed. We will simply organise people who previously were idle and poor to start producing things for each other and selling them using these tokens. This will enable all those who were cut out of economic activity to produce and sell, via the new sector which uses this new "money". This form of money is obviously just an IOU and it enables people with no normal money to produce, sell, and earn … and buy things produced by others within the network.
There would hardly be any finance industry. Little capital would be needed, because it would not be a growth economy. Construction for example would only be replacing old buildings, bridges etc. and would mostly be on a very small scale (no freeways or sky scrapers.) Security in old age, and a continuing valued role, will be provided by the community (overseen by the relevant committee), so there will be little need for the "retirement industry" and security in retirement will not depend on risky investments. Consequently there will be little need for financial planners. Old people will continue to contribute as they felt able, they would need few special premises or professional carers, and therefore they would generate much less work and cost than at present.
There would be no interest paid on money lent. The need to constantly pay back more than was borrowed is a major driver of growth. Loans from our local bank would be repaid plus a small fee to cover administrative costs. No one would get an income from possessing and lending money. When capital is needed for development it will come from the town banks holding our savings, via decisions made by our elected boards under a charter which prioritises lending to those ventures most likely to benefit the town.
It is important to re-think the concept of capital. For most of the important development none will need to be borrowed. Consider a town which wants to build a community hall, and "owns" surrounding forests and clay pits and has its own labour via working bees. It would make no sense to borrow a lot of money to hire contractors to supply these inputs and build the hall, then pay them back twice as mush as was borrowed, when the townspeople could build the hall themselves using their own timber and mud and working bees.
Obviously larger regions and nations are in an even better position to organise such things as they have more resources within them to draw on. Thus the present taken-for-granted dependence on banks, the finance industry and money markets can be seen to be a serious mistake and a bonanza for the rich. It means that instead of organising to do many things for ourselves without borrowing capital, we go to them and maybe pay them twice as much as the dollar cost of the job. To avoid that all a co-op or town or nation has to do is create its own money, in the form of IOUs to be paid back by the income the venture will make when it begins to produce for sale.
The implications for Third World Development.
At present conventional development theory and practice are failing to bring about satisfactory development for billions of Third World people. This is to be expected when development is conceived only in capitalist terms; i.e., as a process whereby those with capital invest it in using Third World resources and productive capacity to make as much money as possible for themselves. Good profits can’t be made developing what is most needed, so the productive resources of any Third World countries are mostly put into developing industries to serve the rich, or there is no development at all.
Yet in any country there is immense productive capacity which only needs organising so that people can get together to produce for themselves most of the basic things they need for a reasonable quality of life, trading only a few surpluses in order to import a few necessities. The Simpler Way enables even the poorest countries to work miracles with very little capital, using mostly local land, labour and traditional technologies, preserving traditions and ecosystems, and avoiding dependence on foreign investors, loans, trade or the predatory global market. (For the detailed discussion see TSW: Their Development and Ours, or the longer TSW: Third World Development.)
This new economy could not possibly work without radical change in culture.
THE NEW VALUES AND WORLD VIEW.
The biggest and most difficult changes will have to be in values and outlooks. The foregoing changes in economy, geography, agriculture and politics cannot work unless people think and act according to some quite different ideas, attitudes, values and habits compared to those dominant today. This again is crucial. You cannot design a sustainable and just society full of competitive, acquisitive individualists! It is therefore a serious mistake to say, "But we want a path to sustainability that will work for us, for ordinary people." The point is there isn’t one! That’s like asking for a path to slimness for people who refuse to even think about reducing their gluttony.
The present desire for affluent-consumer living standards must be largely replaced by a willingness to live very simply, cooperatively and self-sufficiently. People must be conscientious, caring responsible citizens, eager to come to working bees, to think about social issues, and to participate in self government. They must be sociologically sophisticated, aware of the crucial importance of cohesion, cooperation, conflict resolution, etc. They must have a strong collectivist outlook. They must understand and care about the global situation, recognising for instance that the Third World cannot have a fair share of global resources unless we in rich countries live much more simply. Above all they must willingly choose and find satisfaction in materially simpler lifestyles.
This means that a sustainable and just world cannot be achieved until all interest in gain has been abandoned. This is not clearly understood. It is the most difficult change in values and world view we have to face up to. It is not logically possible to have a zero growth economy if individuals and nations retain a desire to increase consumption and monetary wealth. The important point is that there are alternative values, purposes and sources of satisfaction we can turn to other than consuming and getting wealthy.
It is not that we will make these changes reluctantly or just because they are morally or ecologically right. We will eagerly embrace Simpler Way values because they enable a far more enjoyable quality of life. We must therefore get to the situation in which people focus on things like enjoying stable lifestyles, community activities, security, a relaxed pace, beautiful landscapes and towns, time to learn and create and grow. Above all we will come to enjoy living with low, stable and sufficient material lifestyles, to find living in relatively self-sufficient and frugal ways enjoyable.
It is not that everyone has to hold these values before we can save the planet. It is a matter of degree. There must only be a sufficient level of cooperation, responsibility, frugality and readiness to share and give, etc. It will not be necessary for all people to attend all working bees, but there must be a considerable willingness to do such things. In fact many could be less than ideal citizens so long as the average commitment is good enough. This means that the town’s fate will not be jeopardised by those who do not pull their weight, so long as enough do.
This much more collectivist ethos need not set any significant threat to individual freedom or privacy. We can still have our own private houses, property, values, religious views, interests and goals (and in my view, small private firms.) It’s just that we must also have some much stronger common values than at present and the present dominance of individualistic orientations must be replaced by a predominantly collectivist outlook and values.
Our dependence on our local ecosystems and community will have a positive self-reinforcing effect on good values. It will be obvious to all people that it is in their interests to cooperate, come to working bees and meetings, be responsible, think about issues, and care for local ecosystems. We will all know that our welfare depends on how well our town and its social and ecological systems are working, so if we don’t behave sensibly these systems we depend on will deteriorate and we will all be in serious trouble. More importantly, doing these things will be enjoyable. It’s nice to go to working bees. It will not be a matter of forcing ourselves to practice the right values. The new society will not work unless people find it enjoyable to do things like share and help, and the conditions we will be in will tend to make good citizenship enjoyable. The Simpler Way requires and rewards good values and behaviour.
The awareness of our dependence on our local ecosystems will also restore the "earth-bonding" that has been lost in consumer-capitalist society. We will be much more aware of and appreciative of our soils and forests because most of our food, water and materials will be coming from them. We will feel that we belong to our "place", and therefore we will be much more inclined to care for it.
The difference between these values and those dominant today is so great that at first one might conclude there is no possibility of a general shift to The Simpler Way. It constitutes a fundamental break with some of the core elements in Western Culture, especially regarding competitive individualism, self-interest, power and domination, progress, and acquisitiveness. However again the transition is best seen as, not as a need to reluctantly forego satisfactions in order to save the planet, but as the substitution of new and different sources of life satisfaction.
Advocates of The Simpler Way have no doubt that despite extremely low levels of income, wealth and non-renewable resource consumption, The Simpler Way will provide all people with a much higher quality of life than most have now in even the richest countries. (See TSW: Your Delightful Day and TSW: The Spiritual Significance of The Simpler Way.)
STAGE 2 OF THE REVOLUTION.
All the above discussion has only been about Stage 1 of the transition and does not refer to the huge structural changes that must also be made at the national and international levels. There are severe limits to what can be achieved in Stage 1. Local economies will always need many goods and services that they cannot produce for themselves. It is not satisfactory if a town or eco-village functions very self-sufficiently but uses bolts, light switches, tooth brushes, shoes and salt produced in a national or international economy that is unsustainable and unjust. Our concern must be with the form that a globally sustainable and just economy must take. Unfortunately the wider economic context cannot be made satisfactory unless we achieve the most enormous, radical and difficult changes in structure, functioning, and most importantly, in underlying world view and culture.
These change include, scrapping economic growth, reducing the amount of production and consumption and the size of the GDP by possibly 80%, preventing the market from being the determinant of economic functioning and development, eliminating interest payments, eliminating unemployment, and distributing productive capacity evenly throughout the land so that every town can earn some export income.
The immensity and difficulty of getting these kinds of changes through could not be exaggerated. They involve a great deal of regulation, planning, phasing out, relocation, and thus many big problems to do with efficiency and justice. Whether you like it or not this means some kind of “socialism”, but it is crucial to stress that there are many highly unacceptable varieties of socialism and the version we have to work for must be thoroughly participatory and not the centralized, authoritarian and bureaucratised form usually assumed. State-level functions must be controlled by the participatory local assemblies at the town level, via completely open and accountable processes such as town meetings and referenda, and recallable delegates and bureaucrats who have no power to make policy or decisions. This is non-negotiable. If government is not in this form the new communities will not work; they cannot make the right decisions for themselves or maintain the necessary sense of empowerment and morale unless they have the power to control their own situation, and the state-level provision of materials and services towns need. The right decisions for your town cannot be made by some centralized bureaucracy.
Obviously none of this will become possible unless most people come to seen the desirability for these changes. The work for activists in Stage 1 is to build that understanding. (Stage 2 is discussed at length in TSW: The Transition.)
It must be emphasised that if the limits to growth analysis is basically correct, then we have no choice but to work for the sort of alternative society outlined above. However it is important to understand that most of the alternatives described are longer term goals that can only be achieved slowly as communities explore the arrangements that suit them best. They do not have to be brought in suddenly, and the transition could be gradual, smooth and peaceful.
It would be very easy to establish and run The Simpler Way – if we wanted to do it! It does not involve complicated technology or solutions to difficult technical problems, such as how to get fusion reactors to work. lt does not require vast bureaucracies or huge sums of capital. We could transform existing suburbs in a few months, using mostly hand tools. We could quickly defuse global problems and liberate human kind.
The Simpler Way is about reorganising in order to harness the abundant existing local resources, now largely wasted. In your neighbourhood there are huge quantities of labour, skill, advice, humour, technical capacity, care, community…but most of them are idle. People who could be helping each other, making community facilities, dropping in on old people, etc., are sitting in their isolated boxes watching TV.
Analyses of related subtopics.
TSW: Remaking Easts Hills: This is a detailed analysis of how this outer Sydney suburb could be remade into a highly self-sufficient “town” in which people would have a very low “footprint”, perhaps providing most food needed and cutting energy costs to under 10% of present figures.
TSW: The Transition. Detailed discussion of strategy, including criticism of most previous approaches.
TSW; Your Delightful Day. Explains the many benefits The Simpler Way would enable.
Blazey, C., 1999), The Australian Vegetable Garden, Diggers Seeds, Dromana, Victoria.
Koont. S., “The urban food gardens of Havana”, Monthly Review, 60.8 Jan, 2009, 44-63.