ParEcon Questions & Answers

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Why not Green Economy as a Vision?

cWhy look for something entirely new? Why not just advocate Green economics?

Green economics is typically about sustainability. This is the idea that our activities should be consistent with their own continuation. We should not use up,what we need in order to persist. We should not corrupt what we need in order to persist.

When you think about it, that is not actually asking for much. Green economics says we should not be economically suicidal. We should not conduct our economy in such a way that we will no longer be able to function in the future. We should instead conduct our economy consistently with its own continuation. This is a quite minimalist demand.

Of course any good economy, any worthy economic vision, will be sustainable. Green economics can go further, however. It can argue that a good economy should take into account both the ways in which the natural environment benefits humanity, and also the intrinsic value, in its own right, of that environment. And we would certainly agree that a good economy should accomplish this too. In other words, certainly a desirable, worthy, economic vision will be a green vision. But being green does not in itself make a vision sufficient to our broadest desires. So we must be green, but we must seek more too. Consider, for combining and interlacing richer concerns, the words of Murray Bookchin who eloquently addressed the need for ecological aims in left program long before most people who now advocate green economy even noticed ecology…

“If we take for granted and accept unreflectively that community consists of an aggregate of unrelated, monadic, self-enclosed, and highly privatized egos; that the telephone, radio, television set, and night letter constitute our principal windows to the world; that the shopping mall and its parking lots are our normal terrain for public intercourse; that processed and packaged foods, transported thousands of miles from remote areas of the country, are our major sources of nutriment; that time is money, fast-talking is a paying skill, and speed-reading is a desideratum; that, above all, bureaucracy comprises the sinews of social life, gigantism is the measure of success, and clientage to professionals and centralized authority is evidence of a public sphere–then we will be irretrievably lost as invididuals, will-less as egos, and formless as personalities. Like the natural world around us, we will become the victims of a simplification process that renders us as inorganic and mineral as the ores that feed our foundries and the sand that feeds our glass furnaces.”

What about green bioregionalism? How about that as an economic vision?

Green bioregionalism is a system whose characteristics are quite vague. Many green activists quite reasonably reject capitalism, markets, and authoritarianism—much as we do in this book and for rather similar reasons. Somehow, however, their additional perfectly reasonable and essential idea that an economy and society should attain ecological sustainability leads some of them—and this is where a strange jump occurs—to a notion that local material self-sufficiency is a primary virtue.

Sustainability is certainly unobjectionable. What is the alter- native, after all? Is there anyone who would argue that we should organize ourselves to promote dissolution of our societies due to depletion of their means of existence? Surely everyone of all persuasions has to agree that ecological sustainability is desirable, the alternative being suicide. But then what does self-sufficiency mean? Or bioregionalism?

For some of its advocates bioregionalism seems to mean that in any sensibly demarcated region, economic and social activities should respect the biological and ecological character of the region, consistent with creating a sustainable and fulfilling existence. That seems fair enough and is obviously desirable. But for other advocates bioregionalism seems to mean that each bioregion should only undertake activities that are made possible by the resources and ecological attributes it contains. Its economy must use what resources are directly available in the region, and not depend on inputs from other regions. This seems, in contrast to the earlier sensible formulation, quite misguided.

First, what is ecological about separating each region from all others? The core concept of ecology is arguably interconnection and mutual dependence. For this reason, it is hard to understand why some greens, otherwise so attuned to ecological logic and values, think there is a virtue—much less an ecological imperative—in creating self-sufficient rather than mutually dependent relations among regions. Second, some regions naturally have more plentiful resources and desirable ecologies for humans than others, and no single region can offer all the benefits that can be generated by sensible attention to balanced utilization and sharing of resources from all regions. So why should we eliminate the benefits of sharing ecological bounty across all borders? We cannot find any reason to forego such benefits unless one argues that mutual interaction intrinsically breeds ecological devastation. But why should that be if we use means of mutual interaction that are ecologically sensitive (and rule out markets)?

What has all this got to do with green bioregionalism? Well, for us it is hard to evaluate it as an economic system without raising these points because to evaluate it as an economy we have to specify its component economic institutions. Some greens advocate a localized community economy, with small work units and no major allocation institutions other than direct interpersonal barter. They often seem to favor equitable roles and incomes, including no hierarchies in decision-making influence or job quality. However, they provide no explanation of how to accomplish these desirable aims. Instead, there is an implicit presumption that such admirable results would flow inexorably from the logic of small size and self-sufficiency. Yet this belief has neither historical nor logical basis. Indeed, in contrast, the only thing that necessarily flows from bioregionalist self-sufficient aspirations and small size is a needless dissolution of social ties, a harsh inequality of resources, and a self-negating rejection of economies of scale.

When green bioregionalists react to such criticisms, they say: “Oh sure, of course, we don’t mean that people in the desert have to suffer compared to people in areas with great climates and plentiful resources. Who would favor such unfairness in life?” But then when asked how the bounty of the latter finds its way, in part, into the hands of the former, they have no answer … and in our view the green bioregionalist now confronts an economic decision. Do I want markets, or do I want central planning, or do I want some other allocation mechanism to mediate this transfer? It is our view that if they opt for either of the first two allocative means they will wind up with either market or centrally planned socialism/coordinatorism. Their vision will incorporate class division and class rule and will lose the qualities they aspired to, including proper attention to the ecology in relation to human well-being and the capacity to sensibly relate to broader ecological dictates having to do with the rights of other species—as well as rejection of hierarchy in work conditions, assertion of mutual empowerment, and attainment of equitable distribution of circumstances and incomes. On the other hand, if Bioregionalists wish to retain all these values and to also facilitate the diverse ecological realities of countless regions, then they will have to adopt a suitable economic vision for those goals—which is not accomplished by favoring an a priori dissolution of inter- connectedness or prioritization of self-sufficiency.

The final point we would like to make about bioregionalism is the even more extreme one that ubiquitous smallness and self- sufficiency are not only not in every case necessary or sufficient for a good economy, but that taken by themselves they are not even always ecological values or values of any desirable sort at all.

To say that an economy should prioritize small structures, or assemble itself into regions subsisting without benefit of interaction, opts for such choices even when they are contrary to worthy values and themselves convey nothing positive. It would be sensible for greens to demand that a good economy should take proper account of the full ecological implications of economic choices, and should help people make choices in light of these implications. It would make sense to demand that an economy permit sensible choices of scale in light of ecological and social implications, not prejudging one way or the other. When dealing with workplaces, living units, industries, and pretty much every type of institution and social structure, sometimes larger is better, sometimes smaller, whether ecologically, or to achieve face to face relations, or for many other reasons. Similarly, it would make sense to demand that an economy not dissolve relations of mutual benefit and support among regions or exaggerate their potentials either, but, instead, allow ecologically proper and materially just and beneficial flows from region to region. Sometimes it makes sense for resources, goods, and services to flow freely even over large distances, sometimes not. The point is that an economy should not make such choices a priori, but provide workers and consumers the needed information and appropriate decision-making influence to collectively arrive at desirable choices, as conditions and opportunities arise.

We have come to the end of this chapter and to the end of part one of this book and have arrived at the positive questions that motivate the rest of our exploration. Can we specify a new type of economy that facilitates solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management, and that gets desirable economic functions done without imposing costs that offset its benefits in ways that we find too onerous?

If yes, then we have a new economic vision we can truly celebrate. If no, then we either keep trying or we will have to choose from among the horribly flawed models we have already discussed— forcing ourselves to settle for the one we find least evil.

Next Entry: Solidarity Economy?


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