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   today’s   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   earth’s   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”.   Let’s   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   today’s   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  world’s  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  today’s   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.        



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