This is a wonderful essay looking at how a Sustainable Economy must be structured democratically and decentralized to the local level.  The only thing I would add is that we need a realistic plan of action to get us from the capitalist hellhole we currently inhabit to this accurate vision of a future sustainable society, and we can’t be afraid to confront powerful forces which want to stop us.

For me as a young person in the United States, the heart of the Empire, I see my current role as organizing youth and students in resistance to the forces of domination (war, debt, oppression).  Others may be better positioned to organize their workplace or their communities, or to start urban gardens, or other projects.  We each have a role to play, and we need to discover it ourselves. [alex]

Building a Sustainable Economy

by Marcin Gerwin

Democracy first

In 1994 the government of Haiti lifted tariffs and allowed imports of cheap, subsidized rice and other crops from abroad. This policy was recommended by the International Monetary Fund and urged by the U.S. government (1). Over the years this tiny change in policy led to an estimated 830,000 job losses, it damaged food security and rural livelihoods, and eventually led to food riots and hunger in 2008 (2). If people in Haiti were to decide by themselves on their country policy, would they choose the recommendations of the IMF that brought them into starvation? Would people of Ecuador allow toxic pollution in the Amazon for the sake of Chevron Texaco profits? Would people in India accept genetically modified seeds of cotton that caused crop failures, spiral of debt and hundreds of farmer suicides? And would people in the USA support bailing out banks with their own money in a way that is not transparent and does not lead to the recovery of the financial system? They wouldn’t. These things happen around the world because we still don’t have true democracy, where people set the rules for themselves.

rice-in-indiaWomen sowing rice in India
Photo: Michael Foley

In 2001 twenty subsistence farmers, small traders, small food processors, and consumers, mostly women, and some of them illiterate, met in Indian village to decide on the future of agriculture in the state of Andhra Pradesh. They were chosen to represent the rural diversity of their state. They presented three different models of development. The official plan, put forward by Chief Minister of the state, was backed by grants and loans from the World Bank and the UK government. The plan was to mechanize, consolidate and genetically engineer agriculture of the state to produce cash crops for export, and to reduce the farming population from 70% to 40%, to have more workers for industry. The second vision involved developing environmentally friendly agriculture to produce cheap organic products for domestic and Northern supermarkets and it was supported by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and the International Trade Center. The third vision was influenced by Gandhian and indigenous ideas, and involved increasing local self-reliance and sustainability in both agriculture and economics.

Each model was illustrated by videos, farmers and traders could hear the summary of the policies, ask questions, consult with government officials, scientists, corporate and NGO representatives from the state, national and international level. They also considered advantages and disadvantages of each vision, based also upon their own knowledge, priorities and aspirations. After one week they made a decision.

Tom Atlee writes:

In their recommendations (…) they said they wanted self-reliant food and farming, and community control over resources. They wanted to maintain healthy soils, diverse crops, trees and livestock, and to build on their indigenous knowledge, practical skills and local institutions. They wanted to maintain the high percentage of people making their livelihood from the land, and did not want their farms consolidated or mechanized in ways that would displace rural people. Most of them could feed their families through their own sustenance farming. They did not want to end up laboring in dangerous brick kilns outside of Hyderabad, like so many who had left their farms. They also rejected genetically modified crops and the export of their local medicinal plants. (3)

If we wish to make some meaningful changes in the world, we need appropriate tools for that. A number one tool in the earth repair workshop is community-based democracy. It is a key for unlocking the potential for sustainability.

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