|As regular readers of these pages know, I am predicting that, at some point in this century, the large political and economic structures (state governments and multi-national corporations) that currently govern much of our lives will collapse, probably due to a combination of total dysfunction in the new wired world and economic bankruptcy. This will leave a vacuum that will be filled, I predict, by community-based organizations.
I think we have seen a preview of government dysfunction in Homeland Security (the largest centrally-managed organization in the history of the planet), of the kind of economic incompetence that will lead to large government bankruptcy in the Bush administration, and of the superior effectiveness of community-based organizations in the response to Katrina and the other natural disasters that we have faced this year.
The challenge is that we have become so used to relying on large central governments and corporations to manage things for us, that we have lost the knowledge of how to self-manage our own communities. My nine articles on communities (list here, scroll down to the Community subheading) have focused mainly on the social management of communities — self-forming new communities and then getting along with other members. Just as important will be the economic management of these communities, and in particular the management of the communities’ resources.
When I speak of communities I am not talking about housing subdivisions where people are thrown together by serendipity, commuting needs and similar financial wherewithal (and in some cases similar ethnicity). And I am not talking about municipalities whose boundaries are the result of historical accident or political convenience, and which are often as big as some countries — far beyond the limits of the rule of 150.
By community I mean a small, self-manageable group of people who have chosen to live or make a life together. And I am talking about community in its original sense of “those in common”, equally with and by all — an egalitarian society whose property is held in common, together.
How should such a community manage its ‘commons’, its shared resources?
Perhaps the best answer to this question is to look at the rules that we use today to manage resources. Economists would probably cite these rules as follows:
These rules are based on the assumption that we live in a ‘market economy’, which of course we do not. Power and wealth are used to distort markets to the advantage of the powerful and wealthy, principally by bribing (no I don’t think that’s too harsh a word) public officials to pass or rescind laws and to enforce or ignore regulations that favour them and disadvantage others. The theoretical role of governments is to intervene to ensure that the disadvantaged have at least enough resources to live a healthy and comfortable life, and to coordinate activities when individuals and smaller groups are unable or unwilling to do so, though that role, at least in the US and most of Earth’s struggling nations, seems to be increasingly unpopular.
What rules will a community-based society need to put in place to effectively manage its resources when the existing central governments and corporations crumble and are no longer in a position to act by the above, or any, rules? I think, given enough time and through trial and error communities will (re-)discover rules that work. But here, based on a number of recent e-mail discussions with readers, is my first cut at such a rule set:
Nature provides a near-perfect model of the use and value of these rules. It will require a lot of innovation and study for communities to learn from nature and (re-)learn the principles of bioregionalism. Adhering to these simple rules could allow us to free ourselves from thinking that the ‘market economy’, acquisitive culture, and an ‘ownership society’ are the only way to live. The sooner we start, perhaps with Model Intentional Communities, the better.