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The

Distributist Societies and Their Future From Growth unto Death to a Flourishing Life within Limits. Dr. Ovidiu Hurduzeu

Growing unto Death: Why Today's Overgrown Civilization is Fast Collapsing.

We live the ultimate consequences of an overgrown civilization based on the over-stimulation of the desire for limitless quantities of money. The industrial- financial system of mass production, the mega-machine of todays overgrown civilization, is permeated by the principle of immediate rewards in the abstract form of money. The immediate maximization of profit is the final end of life. Pride, envy, greed, avarice and lust were turned into positive social virtues and were treated as necessary to all economic enterprise. The large-scale industrial and farming system induces constant growth. The accompanying centralization has led to social and economic structures that are highly unsustenable: extensive urban areas with large concentrated populations leading to huge environmental impacts. Massive large-scale operations and concentrated industrial cores have increased the distance between supply and demand causing severe environmental problems. Such a system came into existence through 1) government policies to subsidize the operating costs and inefficiencies of big business 2) a regulatory framework (including intellectual property) to protect it from competition 3) it relies on the advances in large-scale technology which accommodates the mass-production model. Mass production involves a large investment and large investments tend to take precedence over ecosystems and local communities. As a rule, big corporations make huge investments in more efficient means of extraction or exploitation, not investments in renewal or regeneration of the natural and human resource base. The so called economic growth on a global scale licenses the unrestrained taking of profits from the disintegration of nations, communities, households, landscapes and ecosystems. Money is now the only form of power and, through its very concentration and abstraction from all other realities, knows no limits. The industrial-financial system of mass production is indifferent to concrete realities and subject to the progressive inflations of an ever expanding economy growth meaning economic growth, in the sense of monetized exchange value. The system of financial expansion lives in a symbiotic relation with the industrial system of mass production. The aim of the industrial-financial system is not primarily to satisfy essential human needs with a minimal productive effort, but to 1

multiply the number of artificial needs and to accommodate them to the industrial overcapacity to produce the maximization of profits. An unsustainable business model, based on consumer credit and planned obsolescence, is used to keep the wheels running. As consumers, we are now incessantly urged, through expensive, manipulative and unrelenting propaganda (advertising), to practice waste and wanton destruction. The relentless pursuit of new things make us buy more stuff. Once we have bought an item, it should spend as little time as possible in our hands as useful product; the true end of commodities is to reach as soon as possible the landfill, to become useless garbage. The system actually manufactures landfills and the size of the garbage dump becomes the true measure of our wealth (John Medaille). The end result is a colossal waste of the earths mineral and energy resources, which are certainly not unlimited. The industrial-financial complex is hitting a wall, a systemic crisis, it is now sustaining itself by the consumption of the natural and social capital. It is sawing off the branch on which we are sitting. It no longer tax the future to pay for the present, it pays for the present by undermining the future generation to survive on this planet. The collapse of the overgrown civilization is increasingly likely because the ever growing operating expenses of its industrial-financial system and the costs of environmental mismanagement become too high. (J.A.Tainter) Collapse writes Joseph A. Tainter in Collapse of Complex Societies is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity. To the extent that collapse is due to declining marginal returns in complexity, it is an economizing process. Lets take the example of the Western. Roman Empire. Far from being a catastrophe, the collapse of Western Roman Empire was an economical and highly appropriate adjustment, a problem-solving response to stress surges of the kind that the late Empire had found overwhelming. Like todays overgrown modern civilization, the Roman empire had a crisis of extensive development (i.e. expansion into new territory, and acquisition of new slaves) As stresses grew, new organizational and economic solutions were developed. When the slave system reached its limits of external expansion, it was replaced by a simpler, distributed society of small units, less socially differentiated, less specialized and with less centralized control. The feudal manor system dealt successfully with challenges which the Empire found insurmountable, and did so at lower cost. The serfs ( peasants ) were more efficient as they lived in better conditions, they had their own land, their own families and could produce for their own use and others. As a consequence, the new society moved from extensive development in space to re-localized, intensive production, on the local level. As Michel Bauwens puts it: It was a shift from a society of chattel slaves, producing for a global Roman market basically, a society based on the production of exchange value to a society based on the production of use-value: serfs, producing for themselves and selling the surplus to the local people. It was also a shift from large scale, organization-dependent technology to small-scale technology used by small communities without outside assistance. When the Roman empire fell apart, The Roman aqueducts fell into disrepair and were never rebuilt. Their techniques of 2

road construction were lost. And yet, there was no regression in sustainable, small- scale technology; any village craftsman could build, for instance, a water wheel, any skilled smith could make steel by Roman methods, and so forth (Ted Kaczynski) Towards a Flourishing Life within Limits It is our understanding that today we face the challenges of a similar transition. A global, overgrown, global civilization is now collapsing and a new resilient world is rising from its ashes. Sustainability is a matter of scale and resilience. It is a problem-solving response to the economic and social stresses created by our failed economic model and the old mental framework fostering infinite growth. We must accept that we have only one finite planet, within a biosphere that is also finite. We are now using the resources of one-and-a third planets. Deforestation is occurring at a rate of 12.5 million hectares per annum. It is our contention that the crisis in fuel, food and finances and the crisis in our ecological and climate commons have as a root cause the industrial-financial system organized around the gargantuan multi-divisional corporation. The M-form corporation is flawed with the separation between work and the ownership of productive property ( or simply the ownership of financial wealth in lieu of physical property), the separation of ownership of capital from the knowledge of the production process, of management from the direct involvement in the production process, and with the accountability of management to absentee owners rather than to workers (Thomas Storck). As an immediate result, such separation tends to liberate the appetite for amassing wealth from the natural limits attached to it when the wealth is acquired by an individual within his own labor applied to his own productive property. And in the long run, it legitimizes the folly of separating economy from society and environment. When ownership is separated from work, an economic system becomes unsustenable because it has two single purposes 1) to amasse ever-greater financial wealth and to deal with the enormous capital outlays and overproduction entailed in mass-production industry. Excess production is a necessity of the debt-money system since it is only by selling more that the costs of the last production cycle can be recovered. It does not matter much whether what is produced is useful. The industrial-financial system has to produce for this is the activity that gives money its value. The activity has to be constantly accelerated to justify the expenditure. Cartelization, financialization, high costs from idle capacity, alongside push distribution and planned obsolescence, together constitute the pathologies of the industrial-financial system of mass production. They are directly responsible for the depletion of inexpensive oil and gas supplies and the resource shortages of fresh water, forests, agricultural land and biodiversity (we are facing the possible loss of 50 per cent of the worlds plant and animal species before the end of the century) 3

A society is SUSTAINABLE when it will NOT produce simply for the sake of piling up goods or engage in financial transactions which have little or no relation to production or to the fulfilling of genuine human needs. We Need a Big Shift: - from a highly-capitalized, high-overhead, bureaucratically ossified and unsustainable economy, the subsidized and protected product of the collusion between big government and big business, to a low capital, low-overhead and sustainable New Economy. - from the fetish of macro-economic labor productivity and GDP (as the principal macroeconomic variable) to ecological macro-economics variables which should reflect the energy and resource dependency of the economy and the limits on carbon. - from the immediate maximization of profits and labour productivity to new concepts of profitability and productivity meant to pursuit long-term social goals. - from an exploitative relationship to nature to one of harmony and co-existence - from materialistic consumerism fuelled by debt to sustainable consumption within ecological limits - from the deadly alternative expansion or collapse of a growth-based economy to the stability of a steady state economy which no longer relies on ever-increasing consumption growth. - from debt-fuelled economic crisis to a green recovery based on a Green New Deal. - from large scale-technology, accomodating the mass-production model, to the demassification of production capability, a shift driven by the trends in modern machine-tool evolution (smaller, smarter, cheaper) - from the economy of large-scale, centralized production to small-scale, distributed operations in more locations that employ people in ways that contribute meaningfully to human flourishing - from a brown carbon regime based on the extensive conversions of pasture land, cropland and forests into bio-energy crops - a regime emitting more CO2 than was saved by switching to bio-energy - to a green carbon regime controlling emissions. - from mass-production industry's practices of adding subsidized inputs extensively to distributed economies using limited resources intensively. The small-scale distributed economies reduce waste and inefficiency through the greater efficiency with which they extract use-value from a given amount of land or capital. - from investments in an exploitative and extractive economy to ecological 4

investments ( to enhance resource efficiency and to reduce waste) and investments that multiplies ownership and maximize market entry (Phillip Blond) From military builtup to sustainable disarmement. The global military expenditure of $ 1.2 trillion per annum, United States accounting for 46% of the total, creates a very dangerous situation. Such a costly military builtup infringes the basic human rights and destroy any chances for a sustainable development. That is why we need a big shift from preaching disarmement to actually practicing it. from regional arms race to regional cooperation from a military economy to a peace economy from expenditure on military programs to financing programs that provide for the basic human rights of food, shelter, education, work, health, peace, a clean and healthy environment. Advantages of a Global Network of Distributist Economies Distributist economies are local and regional networks of small and medium-scale, decentralized, flexible units that are synergestically connected with each other and make use of (mostly) local resources. ( It is essentially a sharing system. When individuals realize that they are involved in a genuine sharing system, an enormous human energy is released: there is a transformation from suspicion to trust; from lack of commitment to strong commitment; from holding back to plunging in; from disappointed wariness to confident hope. Economies comprised of a more independent workforce distributed over many networked smaller businesses, have the resilient qualities of the grass. Distributed ownership and control posits a healthy relationship between ownership and production by maintaining and encouraging small businesses, small workshops, small farms in which the owner would always be personally involved in the actual production of the product or service. Employee ownership (labor-owned capital), a main component of a distributist economy, lowers the gap between rich and poor not by taxation (which is painful and can be reversed by the next administration), but by a more even distribution of wealth in the course of creating it. In the very process of creating wealth, employee-owned companies distribute wealth more evenly. This is a sustainable, long-lasting process. The distributist economies reduce waste and increase efficiency by eliminating the burden of supporting a class of absentee investors. When capital equipment is owned by the same people who make and use it, or made and used by different groups of people who divide the entire product according to their respective labor and costs, it is both productive and sustainable. 5

The big corporation is inefficient at aggregating distributed knowledge, compared to self-managed labor. Workers in a cooperative enterprise put more of themselves into their work and feel free to share their private knowledge knowledge that would be exploited ruthlessly as a source of information in a conventional enterprise. As a rule, self-employment in the household sector, self-managed peer networks and self-managed cooperatives is humanly rewarding and enhancing. The New Distributist Economy is characterized by - renewable energy and green technology, - crowdsourced credit and microlending, - relocalized networked manufacturing - a version of small-scale organic agriculture that applies the latest findings of biological science - a mode of economic organization centered on civil society and peer networks. Many other elements, that would fit into a New Distributist Economy, are taking shape at the edges of the dominant society: - the bioregional movement - deep ecology, -farmers markets - community-supported agriculture - homegrown gardens - local-and slow-food movements, slow money and alternative currencies, alternative medicine, - home schooling, - ecological restoration, land trusts, land preservation, anti-globalization and anti-free trade. A new paradigm is being born and it seems unlikely that it can function on anything resembling the current corporate model supported by the industrial- financial system of mass production. The truth of the matter is the present economic crisis is not cyclical, but structural. As Kevin Carson states, there is excess industrial capacity that will be rust in a few years because we are entering a period of permanently low consumer demand and frugality. Peak oil, the end of long-haul transportation, global warming, 6

the anticipated end of agribusiness will force the destructive industrial-financial system to change radically in the direction of the New Economy and distributist principles. The world after Peak Oil will be largely a return to the past in terms of the re-emergence of local economies. The world will reconstruct itself on the lines of a more human-scale, community-based, local-resource-dependent societies. We need to encourage a major shift from the economy of large-scale, conventional production to dispersed production in countless micro-enterprises, and from wage labor to the informal and household economy. In the year 2000, for the first time the volume of consumer goods produced in job shop facilities mostly in Asia exceeded the volume produce in traditional Industrial Age factories. This marks a long emerging trend of demassification of production. Concomitantly, the household the family is going to be revitalized as a powerful and relatively autonomous productive unit. By building their own homes, by recycling old cars or avoiding automobile altogether, by building their own furniture, sewing their own clothes, and growing their own food, people can internalize 70-80% of all their needs and live a low-cost, comfortable subsistence off the grid. Obstacles against the New Distributist Economies. Unfortunately, the new distributist, community-based, local-resource- dependent civilization has not displaced the obsolete industrial-financial system of mass production, with speed and decisiveness and it had not yet developed its own forms and organizations. We are building the foundations of the new society within the shell of the old (Kevin Carson) The new forces, activities and institutions, instead of crystallizing independently into their own appropriate forms, might creep into the unsustainable structures of the existing civilization. Emerging from todays overgrown civilization, the new sustainable institutions might compromise with it and lose their genuine identity. Extremely powerful vested interests will continue to prop the obsolete multi-divisional corporation, the pro-growth economies, the anti- environment agenda and the anti-social aims of the industrial-financial system. Such poisonous forces may use the new inventions and devices to give a short fresh lease of life to the economic basis for continuing subsidized waste and planned obsolescence until the ecosystem reached a breaking point. Any illusions about achieving any major protection against the evils of the current system should be dispelled by what is happening with environmental legislation. Here the conflict of values is straightforward: economic expedience now versus saving the natural resources for our grandchildren. On this subject we get only a lot of blather and obfuscation from the people who have power and nothing like a clear, consistent line of action; we keep on piling up environmental problems that our grandchildren will have to live with. Attempts to resolve the environmental issue consist of struggles and compromises between factions, some of which are ascendant at one moment, others at another moment. The line of struggle changes with the shifting currents of public opinion. This is not a rational process, nor is it 7

one that is likely to lead to a timely and successful solution to the problem. The industrial-financial system of mass production cannot be reformed in such a way as to reconcile the maximization of profits and the sustainable development, the health of the earth and the health of the hedge funds. Hopefully, we will not bail out the disintegrating system and let the ecosystem and human society perish. It is important that societies all over the world should promote structural changes and they should no longer prop up the old extractive short-term economy of yesterday". Best students should find good jobs and a fulfilling life in the New Distributist Economy. By the end of the century, our children and grand children will face a hostile climate, depleted resources, the destruction of habitats, the decimation of species, food scarcities, mass migration and almost inevitable war. That is why we need to invest in people who understand the severity of such a situation. They need to have the skills and courage to make structural changes in society so that the distributist societies of the future could really bring us a prosperous and more humane life.