Sunday, February 17, 2013

The need to build local non-market economies – A response to Andy Scerri in Arena Magazine

In the Dec/Jan addition of Arena Magazine, Andy Scerri raises several arguments against those of us who believe that building alternative community economies hold the key to a just and sustainable future. 

The main reason why some of us think this is because we are convinced that we are far beyond sustainable levels of economic activity and to solve the contemporary ecological crisis will require vast reductions. We do not think this is possible within the ‘grow or die’ system of global market capitalism. Instead, we need an alternative economy; yes, some form of eco-socialism. This, however, need not be the centralised, authoritarian, and bureaucratic forms of ‘socialism’ tried in the past.  In order to work well it must involve democratic, decentralised (but federated) local, co-operative, and largely self-sufficient economies.

While states will eventually have a vital (but reduced) role to play in restructuring and planning, such radical change obviously will not be brought about by today’s political parties or even NGOs. We need a new radical simplicity movement, which aims to build – in small ways at first – some of the alternative economic institutions, primarily as a means to persuade more and more people that consumer-capitalism is redundant and better ways are viable. Attractive visions to help guide us have been put forward by people such as Ted Trainer’s (The Simpler Way) and Terry Leahy (the Gift Economy).

Scerri thinks that local models can’t do anything about massive global problems like climate change. But just because climate change impacts globally, does not mean the solutions must be global. For us, there is no solution within the existing consumer-capitalist world order. Renewable techno fixes are not viable, because as Trainer has convincingly shown, they will be far too costly. Of course we need to move to 100% renewables as quickly as possible. But these technologies are only viable in the context of a new society that allows us to produce & consume far less and therefore use less energy and create less pollution.

Scerri creates a false dichotomy between ‘political’ actions and attempts to build community economies. According to Scerri, we are just idol utopians, disengaged from the real political struggles and ‘burying our heads in the compost.’ But no, we are engaged and we are political. We just happen to think that Scerri’s attempt to convince Julia and co to implement various ‘sustainable’ techno-fixes without ever questioning growth and affluence, or the capitalist system driving both, are doomed to failure!  We are therefore not content to ‘challenge’ (i.e reform) so-called ‘progress-capitalism’. We want to overcome it and believe the coming crisis will give leftists their final chance to do so.

Looking to sling mud wherever he can, Scerri dismisses intentional communities as ‘riven by passive aggression, and petty, controlling personalities.’ Scerri, of course, overlooks many of the inspiring examples such as Twin Oaks, Albert Bates Tennessee Farm, or the exciting Cooperativa Integral Catalana that has recently emerged in Spain (among many others). But okay, no doubt many communities have been a disaster. So what? Does this have anything to do with whether community economies – most of which could still have lots of normal private households – have to be the main element in a sustainable and just future? Not that I can see. If problems exist, we simply have to try harder.

Scerri would be on firmer ground had he argued that our chances of achieving such vast change are minimal. That is true but irrelevant. The question is, what other strategy will work in light of the severe limits to growth, and impending breakdown once we hit the ‘2030 spike’? It is truly either eco-socialism or barbarism. So leftists and revolutionaries I encourage you to find a transition towns (or similar) group and join us down in the gardens! Use all your leftist knowledge to help us convince ordinary people that consumer-capitalism is no longer viable, and that we must start now building the alternatives.

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