cj#832-1/2> GRI.II / Intro & C.4: “Livable and sustainable societies”

1998-09-15

Richard Moore

                Globalization and the Revolutionary Imperative

               Part II - Introduction,  Chapter 4 - preliminary

                     Copyright 1998 by Richard K. Moore
                            15 September 1998
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Part II - Envisioning a livable world: common sense, not utopianism
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Introduction [509 words]
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Part I examined the path on which the world is currently headed under the
control of the well-entrenched, Western capitalist elite oligarchy.
Societies and economies are being systematically and intentionally destroyed
by free trade polices and by interventions of the IMF. A global economy is
being imposed on the world which is rapidly being dominated by a handful of
TNC megacorps. A de facto world government has been established which serves
TNC interests, has no democratic representation whatever, and which is
backed by Western military power.

The Earth is being poisoned and its irreplaceable resources are being
squandered in the pursuit of never-ending capital growth. Poverty,
starvation, and disease are becoming rampant worldwide while a global regime
of KulturKampf is being established to maintain world order in the midst of
ongoing tension and strife. As the mass-media is being concentrated into the
hands of a few global conglomerates, populations are being fed a steady diet
of disinformation, escapist entertainment, and neoliberal propaganda.

As Western societies are being dismantled and refashioned in the mold of the
Third-World, police-state regimes are being established to contain popular
unrest. Factionalism and fundamentalist ideologies are being systematically
promulgated worldwide so that groups and nations will struggle against one
another rather than uniting in opposition to the global capitalist regime.

As the Earth's fragile ecosystems are being pushed to the breaking point,
the world is faced with the very real possibility of the total breakdown of
civilization and the massive die-off of populations. Alternatively, if the
capitalist oligarchy decides to change course and cease the pursuit of
unmaintainable economic growth, the world faces a bleak future enslaved
under the thumb of global tyranny.

Is there any hope for humanity? Can capitalist domination be overcome? Is it
too late to change course, restore our environment, and establish livable
societies? No one can answer these questions with certainty, but we, the
world's people, must make the effort to save ourselves and the Earth. If we
fail to do so we are betraying everything decent in humanity's heritage and
we are condemning our progeny to either death or subservience. We have
nothing to lose and everything to gain by standing up for ourselves and
courageously challenging our oppressors.

Part III of this book will examine the history of social movements, and of
revolutions, and will endeavor to outline a practical strategy for
non-violent, global, democratic revolution. In Part II, we will develop the
goals of such a revolution -- we will investigate the nature of livable,
sustainable societies.

A livable society is a society in which people are happy to live -- a
society in which people are reasonably well off and in which they feel in
control of their lives and destinies. A sustainable society is one that is
not living beyond its means, where resources are not being used up faster
than they can be replaced. Livable societies are the birthright of men and
women everywhere; sustainability is the means by which livable societies can
be passed on to our children.

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Chapter 4 - Sustainable societies: a realizable necessity  [4060 words]
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General principles of sustainability: stability and regulation
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
With the advent of acid rain, ozone depletion, global warming, and other
obvious signs of global-scale disruptions, sustainability is becoming a
familiar term. Environmentalists talk about sustainable agriculture and
sustainable economics, while globalization's policy-makers talk about
sustainable development.

"Sustainable development," like most of globalization's euphemisms, means
the opposite of what it says. Just as free competition masks a program of
monopoly concentration, so sustainable development masks a program aimed not
at preserving resources, but at extracting the maximum possible profit out
of those that remain. Satellite and field inventories are being collated,
models are being built of various ecosystems, and an agenda of "best use"
(that is, maximal exploitation) is being prepared. In the calculus of
sustainable development, people die of thirst while water is diverted to
support agribusiness operations.

While sustainable development is merely deceptive rhetoric, sustainable
economics and agriculture are in fact necessary societal objectives -- the
unsustainable alternative is simply another name for the inevitable collapse
of society. But sustainable economies and agriculture cannot be achieved,
not in a lasting form, unless society as a whole is made sustainable.

Consider for example the indigenous Mayan people in Chiapas, Mexico. Their
economy and agriculture were sustainable before Cortez arrived in Mexico and
remain sustainable to this day. What has ceased to be sustainable is the
political viability of the Chiapas region within Mexican society, as a
result of NAFTA. Political sustainability is every bit as essential as
economic sustainability, if, as the name suggests, the goal is to last over
time.

One might also take notice of the fact that two centuries ago nearly all
economies were sustainable. Population growth, technological development,
and infrastructure changes have been responsible for the acceleration of
resource depletion. Wherever automobiles have become widespread, for
example, that in itself has guaranteed the unsustainability of societal
energy use.

If any part of a society is to be insured sustainability, then the entire
society, taken as a living dynamic system, must have certain stability
characteristics. This is not to say a sustainable society must be a static
society, but there must be appropriate regulatory mechanisms that keep the
various elements of society within some kind of balance and harmony.

In primitive societies the regulatory mechanisms were natural and cultural.
Tabus, religious beliefs, and other cultural norms -- along with the limits
of the surrounding environment -- kept populations in balance and resource
use within sustainable limits. These cultural norms and economies evolved
over time out of the necessity of societal survival. But such societies were
relatively static, making stability easier to achieve. Modern societies are
highly dynamic, and achieving stability is therefore more difficult.

In dynamic systems, stability is achieved through feedback mechanisms. For
example, a house is kept within a stable temperature range by means of a
thermostat. In order for the thermostat to do its job the temperature sensor
must be located in the house and it must be able to control the furnace. In
general, a regulatory mechanism must be linked to that which is to be
regulated, otherwise the system is unstable and runs out of control.

In modern societies the primary feedback mechanism -- the measure that is
used to judge economic health -- is GDP (Gross Domestic Product). What GDP
measures is monetary transactions, not social well being. It is no surprise
that with GDP as the policy regulator, corporate profits increase while
social well-being declines. To use GDP as a measure of social well-being is
like placing ones thermostat out in the back yard. Just as the furnace would
in that case over-heat the house, so does GDP encourage economic growth far
beyond societal benefit.

Sustainability requires that monitoring mechanisms be designed which are
linked to each significant aspect of society, and which then link into
regulatory controls which have the power to correct imbalances. These
regulatory controls might be laws which prohibit certain activities under
certain circumstances, resource allocations which budget the use of critical
resources, or variable tax rates which make activities increasingly
expensive as they get further out of bounds.

Markets can be very effective regulating mechanisms in certain situations
and if the markets themselves are appropriately established and regulated.
Education can enhance societal stability by helping people to understand how
society functions and how their own choices and actions effect society and
their own well being. Accurate and timely information enables governing
bodies and citizens to respond to changing circumstance and hence to help
keep society in balance.

The range of feedback and regulatory mechanisms is limited only by human
ingenuity, but to be successful, they must be linked to that which they are
intended to regulate. The only sustainability imperative is that overall
regulation be effective in achieving robust sustainability and societal
stability.


Sustaining livability: the necessity of democracy
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
If societies are to be livable -- if they are to achieve social well-being
-- then the most fundamental feedback mechanism must be the people
themselves. Only people can judge their own well-being, and just as a
thermostat must be inside the house, so must citizen satisfaction be the
measure of livability. A livable, dynamic society must therefore be a
democratic society: only a government of the people can be a government for
the people.

The failure of most of our existing democracies is due in large part to the
inadequacy of their political feedback mechanisms. Citizen political will is
expressed primarily through elections that are held every several years, and
in which the only information conveyed is a mark which is placed next to the
name of one of the candidates. Imagine how poorly a business would run if
the only feedback management received was every several years when the
accountants said "You're doing well" or "You're doing poorly," without any
quantitative information!

Just as a healthy business requires frequent and quantitative feedback on
its performance, so does a livable society require ongoing citizen feedback
-- and that feedback must involve more than candidate selection; it must
involve citizen determination of policy priorities, and those priorities
must be communicated to and acted on by governing bodies.

Businesses require not only frequent feedback on their performance, they
also require comprehensive feedback. Each part of the business must be
functioning soundly if the business is to remain healthy. Similarly, for a
society to be livable, it must be livable locally. As different localities
have different needs and preferences, so democracy must be locally based. To
return to our earlier metaphor, each house needs its own thermostat -- it
makes no sense for one thermostat to turn everyone's furnace on and off at
the same time.

If livable societies are to be achieved and sustained, the most fundamental
requirement is that stable, locally-based, democratic governance be
established. Only democracy is based on popular will, only stable democracy
can maintain social well being in a dynamic society, and only locally-based
democracy can adjust to local requirements. In the next chapter the question
of democracy will be investigated further.


Self-sufficiency and trade: seeking the right balance
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Closely related to sustainability is self sufficiency. A self-sufficient
society is not only sustainable, but is also independent of external imports
for its essential needs. Self sufficiency is in fact not typically
attainable except in very primitive societies or in very large societies
which are fortunate enough to possess a wide variety of resources. Trade
with other societies is, generally speaking, a necessity.

For sustainability to be achieved when trade is part of the equation, then
two conditions must be satisfied. First, that which is exported must be
sustainably obtainable. Second, the ongoing availability of needed imports
must be assured. Within those constraints trade can be of great benefit to a
society. An excess of one resource or product can be traded for another in
short supply, and a society can specialize in certain kinds of production,
to the benefit of itself and its trading partners.

Little more need be said regarding the benefits of trade, since those are so
frequently praised in existing capitalist societies. What needs to
emphasized here are the the conditions (above) which need to be satisfied
for trade to be sustainable, and the value of a stabilizing degree of
self-sufficiency in essentials.

Assuring the availability of needed imports can never be fully under the
control of a given society. Making use of relatively inexpensive imports may
provide economic advantages to a society, but over-dependence on imports
threatens the long-term stability of society, especially in periods of
general economic hardship. Sustainability is most reliably achieved through
self-sufficiency in essentials wherever that is feasible.

Whenever a society becomes highly dependent on a given import, it may make
sense in terms of both economics and societal stability to develop a
domestic production capability. This kind of development -- the building of
self-sufficiency -- is the opposite of what development has come to mean
under capitalism. Development today means the building of capital-growth
vehicles, and the encouragement of global over-dependence on trade is itself
the most fundamental growth vehicle for capital. International trade, and
the financing of same, is heavily dominated by TNC's. xx% of all trade is
carried out internally to TNC's.

Having a domestic alternative increases a society's bargaining power in
those cases where it chooses, for economic advantage, to trade beyond its
needs. If imports are not offered at reasonable terms, then the domestic
alternative can be expanded. For several reasons, then, a healthy dose of
self-sufficiency is essential for robust sustainability. Keeping external
dependencies within manageable bounds is one of the regulatory requirements
of a sustainable society.

Trade is one part of a society's wider relationship with other societies,
and a sustainable society -- a society with sustainability awareness --
naturally approaches its relationships with other societies from that
perspective. For example, if timber is needed as an ongoing import resource,
then the importing society would be eager for its trading partners to employ
sustainable forestry practices. Non-sustainability radiates outward,
destabilizing other societies. In a capitalist world, there must be
competition among societies in pursuit of relative advantage; in a
sustainable world, there is more likely to be collaboration among societies
in pursuit of mutual stability and benefit.

When the economic basis of inter-societal relationships shifts from
competition to collaboration, that spirit will affect those relationships
generally, including the political and cultural aspects. Marx may have
exaggerated in saying that all human relationships are determined by
economics, but there is considerable evidence that he was not far off the
mark. Consider for example Western Europe, which had been involved in
endless internal warfare during centuries of competition, both before and
during the era of capitalism. But following WW2, when competitive
imperialism was abandoned, the sprit of collaboration and cultural exchange
grew ever stronger, leading ultimately to the European Union.

In Chapter 6, we will look in more detail at the question of collaborative
internationalism, what kinds of difficulties might be expected to arise, and
how they might be effectively dealt with. For now, let us presume that in a
sustainable world political relationships between societies will be
primarily collaborative and mutually supportive. There may be tensions of
various kinds, just as there are among people in a community, but it is in
each society's best interest to maintain stability and to keep tensions
under control.

One source of obvious tension arises from the principle of self-sufficiency
itself. Suppose for example a society decides that it wants to deploy
wind-power generators in order to achieve energy self-sufficiency. It might
then choose to subsidize development of generator-producing enterprises.
When a production capability is achieved, the society might then impose a
tax on energy imports so that market forces would then lead to the
deployment of generators and eventually the achievement of the desired
self-sufficiency.

This kind of selective protectionism has been used effectively by many
nations, and was crucial to the industrialization of Britain, the United
States, Germany, Japan, Korea, and others. Free trade has always been a
late-stage capitalist agenda, aimed at destabilizing the self-sufficiency of
weaker economies to the relative advantage of stronger ones.

In a sustainable world, a protectionist project might be disturbing to
trading partners who had come to depend on a particular export trade. But
there would be mutual understanding of the desirability of self-sufficiency
-- the trading partner would not interpret the project as a competitive ploy
aimed at relative gain, and would not be inclined to "retaliate" with
tariffs of its own. Presumably the project would be discussed well in
advance of execution, and time would be allowed for adjustments by all
sides. Such is the nature of collaboration.

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[continued...]


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