TOPICS – Module 9: Economic Paradigms of Sustainability

“.. Seems like people aren’t interested in hanging around another thousand years or so…” -Interview with Mike Wiggins, Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Ojibwe.i Understanding Economics An Indigenous economic model is required. At the center of Anishinaabeg minobimaatisiiwin lies a core set of values which underlay a sustainable economy and way of life. First, there is the understanding that an economy is part of a way of life – not separate. When I asked elders about this many years ago, they said an economy is how we live…a job was seen as something which came with the White man (a form of colonization). So it is, that the return to an Anishinaabeg model should be considered. What are some precepts?  Foundationally, there is an understanding that the natural law is the highest law – higher than the laws made by nation states, tribal governments or municipalities. It is the set of laws about ecological and social balances, actions and consequences. It is fundamental, and to this date remains enshrined in part in the Navajo Nation constitution.  There is an understanding that we are all related. This is reflected in our dodaem systems, and all of our teachings, which recognize that we are dependent upon the rest of our relatives, and that we are humble beings at our best. There is an understanding of the sacred – the Great Mystery. That the world is full of animate beings, some of whom we can see, many of whom we cannot see. We are taught that this world is a mirror of other planes, upon which our ancestors and spirits live and laugh with us. We are taught that trees, rocks (aasin is an animate noun) have life, rivers have life, and water is sacred. These teachings pre-suppose that we will recognize all of this in our relations to the larger world. In the fall of 2012, I asked a spiritual teacher of the Anishinaabe about mining projects in Anishinaabe Akiing, in a ceremony. I was told, there is a reason those things are in the ground, and we as Anishinaabeg need to understand that. The spiritual beings are talking to our people, even in this millennium, this time of the seventh fire.  There is an understanding of intergenerational responsibility. This is affirmed in the Iroquois teaching of “in each deliberation we must consider the impact upon the seventh generation from now..” This is a teaching of great privilege and responsibility. This is an Anishinaabeg economic model, at it’s foundation.  The dominant economic model doled out in universities throughout the world is a model of mercantile and capitalist economics. The model is flawed. At it’s foundation it is anthropocentric, focused on the needs of humans without reference to the larger world, and is naïve in it’s presuppositions as to what is available for exploitation. Amory, Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken’s book Natural capitalism provides an overarching analysis of the material basis for the false reasoning. In it’s crystallized essence we find the understanding that for the world to live as Americans do, we need five planets. Bob Constanza in Ecological Economics notes: “In the present day neoclassical Keynsian economics, economics has become focused on full employment and optimal micro economic allocation of resources as measured by the growth in the GNP is seen as necessary to maintain full employment. The issue of distribution has receded into the background. The goal of the economy is to make the total pie bigger so that everyone can get more without changing the relative size of the parts. Continuous growth in parts and income is central in this paradigm, which assumes that aggregate wants are infinite

and should be served by making aggregate production infinite….”ii (ll7). Social movements have challenged this paradigm in many ways -- the anti WTO movements, oppose trade agreements, which usurp local economies and ecosystems, are an example from the last millennium on. New movements, like the Occupy movement, point to the mal-distribution of wealth in the present economic system. While these social movements have been highly critical of the mal-distribution of wealth in the world’s dominant economic system, they have also been met with critical support in regards to the ecological failure of the American and world dominant economic system. This is true with food systems, dependent upon fossil fuels, consumer systems intent upon producing a surplus need and desire, and consequently surplus wastes. Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute succinctly summarizes some of the conflict in Ecological Economics, “…economists see the environment as a subset of the economy. Ecologists, on the other hand, see the economy as a subset of the environment…”iii (3). As Brown and others watch the collapse of ecological systems at an unprecedented level, it is also apparent that “When observations no longer support theory (economic), it is time to change the theory- what scientific Historian Thomas Kuhn calls a paradigm shift…”iv (6). In the case of Indigenous peoples, it is time to reassess our economic paradigm and reaffirm the relationship between our worldview, and our economy. Many of the essential elements of Anishinaabe economic analysis are mirrored in the teachings of ecological economics. Basic precepts of ecological economics include the following: l) Sustainability 2) Inter and intra-species distribution of wealth 3) Discounting and inter-generational justice and 4) Dealing with non-monetized values. The articulation of these is now emergent in the field of ecological economics. Understanding in that the Earth is our Mother, and gives us our life is a central understanding. This mother also gives life to the economy. As David Pearce notes in Ecological Economics, “The first and second laws of thermodynamics instruct us in the idea of sustainability, the first law, is that matter cannot be created or destroyed. The amount of renewable resources extracted should not exceed the Earth’s capacity to replenish these resources, unless substitution of other renewables is possible. Second, wastes should not be emitted at levels that exceed the earth’s capacity to absorb them.”v As Kenneth Boulding and David Pearce note, “…whatever is extracted form the environment will be returned as waste. Thus, the rate of resource extraction is limited by the absorptive capacity of the Earth environment, and the rate of regeneration. The economic implications of this…state the impossibility of totally recycling, which is prohibited because of entropy.”vi We find that we are challenged in many ways in the systems of production as GDP and wealth is associated not with efficiency, but with levels of production, hence, even much recycling could be reduced by reusing glass bottles for instance, but the economy of the packaging industry has created more GDP wealth, at the expense of efficiency and a more coherent relationship with the environment. In short, these are scientific articulations of what Indigenous peoples would call the Creator’s Law or the laws of nature. Interspecies equity: The mass extinctions of species, which now abound from climate change, dam projects, extractive industries, and a history of a country -- which killed fifty million buffalo -- illustrate the lack of equity between speciesvii. Bob Constanza and Herman Daly in Ecological Economics note, “ Wealth is

ultimately the capacity to support life and enjoyment thereof... when we look at the lives of animals we see that all members of these populations have more or less the same standard of living. In addition, they maintain basically the same per capita resource use, a level which does not change over time. Neither are animals split into classes with varying access to natural resources. In the human case, per capita resource use differs widely for different social classes, and is not a constant over time. Modern economics have determined that humans should receive an ever-increasing portion of the world’s resource,”(56) Constanza articulated.viii Intergenerational Justice and Discounting: This is a very interesting concept, explained perhaps best by the economic processed called discounting: based on some value judgment which suggest that the near future is worth more than the present future and beyond some point the value of the future is negligible. This is a critical fault in the economic analysis, which Native communities are very often impacted by. This is to say, that new mining projects always project employment, royalties and economic gains in the present value with no price tag for the future contamination, or the “national sacrifice area” terminology used by the National Sciences Foundation in discussing the mining of western coal lands. The suggestion is that present day job opportunities are of much greater value than the wealth of future generations. Testimony on the proposed Polymet, Eagle Rock and Gogebic mines in Anishinaabe Akiing all reflect this. The Commodification of the Sacred: This is the name of an excellent book by Jerry Mander. This is also an elusive construct -- how sacred is it, how often is it sacred? These were questions asked from the Cold Springs versus Highway 55 sacred site battle in Minnesota to the San Francsico Peaks battle near Flagstaff Arizona. These are discussions of sacred places and of sacred lifeways, without quantification. In an Anishinaabe worldview, this is the understanding of the animate nature of the world around us, and the need to have reverence for that world.ix (See Sacred Sites paper on the Honor the Earth Web site and the Sacred Lands Film Project web site, listed below in Readings section.) Given many of these divergent views, it is incumbent upon us to look beyond economic models that are counter to our worldview and thousands of years of residence on this land. Indicators of Happiness and Wealth: On a worldwide scale, new indicators of happiness and well-being are being forwarded by some of “least developed countries” in the world, who, indeed, say that they are happier than Americans. Bhutan (a Himalayan nation of around 716,896x, Vanuatu (an island nation of 256,155xi people in the middle of the Pacific), and Costa Rica are considered some of the happiest nations in the world. What are their measures of success? Bhutan’s quality of life or social progress has more holistic and psychological terms than the economic indicators of GDP. Bhutan’s king in l972, Jigme Singye Wanehule committed to building an economy in Bhutan based on Buddhist spiritual values. Proposed policies and projects were required to pass a Gross National Happiness review based on a sort of environmental impact statement of happiness. In Bhutan’s view, beneficial development involves a balance between spiritual and material development. These two indicators -- placed side-by-side are seen to reinforce and compliment each other. Indeed, the four pillars of development in Bhutan’s GNP are sustainable development, presence and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance. Bhutan’s indicators are seen

as “transcultural” -- meaning, they could be adopted by other countries, or perhaps Indigenous nations (of which, Bhutan is essentially a nation state emerging from Indigenous cultures). Bhutan’s index as resulted in some changes to their economic policies including limiting of deforestation of the country, and requiring all tourists spend at least $200xii coming into the country. While some might think that tourism requirements might discourage tourists, the reality is that people want to see why they are so darn happy. Another set of indicators, called the Happy Planet Index of some l78 nations, listed Vanuatu as the happiest country on the planet. Vanuatu, with some 209,000 people has an economy based on tourism (to bring in cash income, largely from New Zealand and Australian tourists) and localized agriculture -- which provides most of the food for the community. The capital city also boasts a brewery, making some fine beer, which, interestingly enough, re-uses its own bottles, meaning not only less garbage, but a lower carbon footprint or cost of transportation, reducing the price of a fine bottle of beer. In 2009, Vanuatu’s government declared “the Year of the Traditional Economy”. The traditional economy, provides most of the food and energy for a community (traditional medicines as well), and the basis for tourism. In general, this region of the world (Melanesia) has a traditional economy, which outweighs the dominant exchange economy, largely by necessity of their isolation -- and also by choice. Some eighty percent of the country lives in rural village areas, where “ kustom” prevails. Ralph Regenvanu, a member of Vanuatu’s Parliament and past director of the Vanuatu National Cultural Foundation spent some time talking with me about the happiness plan for his country. Some of the success and happiness indicators in the country focus on the traditional economy, which satisfies, according to Ralph, “most of their food and other requirements using traditional methods and forms of land, sea and resource utilization (e.g. gardening practices), on their customary land and sea.”xiii Access to this wealth, as opposed to cash wealth is paramount to the Vanuatuans. Indigenous languages remain, and the villages are, “Governed by traditional leaders (chiefs and chiefs councils). Still have their disputes resolved within communities by traditional leaders using traditional dispute-resolution approaches; and have participated in custom ceremonies, which cement their place as members of their community.” Ralph points out that the urban portion of the Vanuatu citizenry also stays closely related to the rural and traditional way of life. “…They utilize kinship networks to access food and other resources, provide manual labor, child care, aged care, and deal with their disputes in the traditional way.” In reality, the way of life of Vanuatu becomes “The political, economic, and social foundation of contemporary Vanuatu society and is the source of resilience for our populations, which has allowed them to weather the vagaries of the global economy over past decades.” In reality, the self-reliant Vanuatu economy is very stable. While much of the rest of the world which today faces massive economic upheaval, debt crises and financial bailouts, Vanuatu did not. A 2009 report by OXFAM found that the impacts of the global economic crisis on families in Vanuatu had been “negligible.”xiv The study noted the largest impact was on urban families who imported more of their rice and flour for daily subsistence, who were now facing higher transportation costs for these foods. In general, OXFAM found: “the global economic crisis has had little impact in Vanuatu compared to the massive impacts it has had in more industrialized countries.”xv As the Oxfam report notes, one of the principal reasons for this is “The very low level of integration of the great majority of our population into the cash economy,”xvi Ralph Reganvanu explains as he cites the OXFAM report.

What is interesting about the Vanuatu case study, and the way of life, is the similarity to much of Anishinaabeg traditional economics and culture, mirrored, perhaps, by other Indigenous communities. The indicators of happiness, which place Bhutan and Vanuatu at the top of the charts, may indeed have some compelling resonance with Native America. These economics, adapted from traditional values and “kustom”, are translated into the economic plans of present nation states. Indeed, the findings of the New Economic Foundation’s study on Vanuatu also documented that this localized, self reliant, and tourism-based economy resulted in very high and rich “natural capital, unspoiled coastlines, and unique rainforests.”xvii As MP Reganvanu indicates in his analysis, this natural capital has “…been achieved through thousands of years of excellent resource management traditions and practices by our ancestors, traditions that are still practiced today.”xviii Another essential component of the happiness of Vanuatu is family relationships and clan relationships maintained by this traditional way of life. This is to say, that the elder of a village may have the most knowledge of gardening or harvesting and is thus cherished, as opposed to warehoused away in a nursing home. This happy economy of Vanuatu, according to OXFAM, “provides many social benefits is that establishing, maintaining, and mending relationships between groups.”xix Consequently, there is a sense of a shared identity, “community” and “belongingness” among the large extended family groups that make up the basic building blocks of Vanuatu society. This gives a high level of social security for all family members.

Readings
Session 9: Economic Paradigms of Sustainibility Module Topics Readings From the text:
“Sacred Sites”. Honorearth. n.d. 12-1-12. <http://www.honorearth.org/sacred-sites>

9

McLeod, Christopher. Sacred Land Film Project. Earth Island Institute. Web. N.d. <http://www.sacredland.org/>

Assignments
TOPICS – Module 9: Economic Paradigms of Sustainibility ? DAY 1: 1 2 3 4 DAY 2:

5 6 7 8 9 DAY 3: 10 11 12 13 14

Bibliography
Australia-Oceania. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. November, 2012. 15 November, 2012. < November, 2012. 15 November, 2012> Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. Feeny, S. (2010) The impact of the global economic crisis on the Pacific region, Oxfam Australia, Melbourne. Marks, N., Abdallah, S., Simms, A., Thompson, S. et al. (2006). The Happy Planet Index 1.0. New Economics Foundation. Regenvanu, Ralph. Personal Interview. 11 March, 2011. “Sacred Sites”. Honorearth. n.d. 12-1-12. <http://www.honorearth.org/sacred-sites> South Asia: Bhutan. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. November, 2012. 15 November, 2012. < https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-worldfactbook/geos/bt.html> Wiggins, Mike. Personal interview. 1-7-2012.
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Wiggins, Mike. Personal interview. 1-7-2012. Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. iii Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
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iv

Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. v Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. vi Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. vii Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss. Harvard School of Public Health. N.d. 15 November, 2012. <http://chge.med.harvard.edu/topic/climate-change-and-biodiversity-loss> viii Costanza, R., ed. 1991. Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. ix “Sacred Sites”. Honorearth. n.d. 12-1-12. <http://www.honorearth.org/sacred-sites> x South Asia: Bhutan. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. November, 2012. 15 November, 2012. < https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bt.html> xi Australia-Oceania. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. November, 2012. 15 November, 2012. < November, 2012. 15 November, 2012> xii South Asia: Bhutan. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. November, 2012. 15 November, 2012. < https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bt.html> xiii Regenvanu, Ralph. Personal Interview. 11 March, 2011. xiv Feeny, S. (2010) The impact of the global economic crisis on the Pacific region, Oxfam Australia, Melbourne. xv Feeny, S. (2010) The impact of the global economic crisis on the Pacific region, Oxfam Australia, Melbourne. xvi Regenvanu, Ralph. Personal Interview. 11 March, 2011. xvii Marks, N., Abdallah, S., Simms, A., Thompson, S. et al. (2006). The Happy Planet Index 1.0. New Economics Foundation. xviii Regenvanu, Ralph. Personal Interview. 11 March, 2011. xix Feeny, S. (2010) The impact of the global economic crisis on the Pacific region, Oxfam Australia, Melbourne.

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