Making the Transition to a Natural Economy

virtuous natural cycle

I‘ve written before about the idea of creating a responsible, sustainable, joyful, Natural Economy, and about how difficult it is to ‘get there’ because the brutal industrial economy we live under is The Only Life We Know.

Most of the prescriptions for getting there require (or involve entirely) top-down, government actions. Yes, ideally we should have import duties that prevent products produced by slave labour in ruined environments from coming in. Yes, ideally we should have a tax regime that taxes bads, not goods, and redistributes wealth. Yes, ideally we should have land ownership reform that prohibits absentee ownership and speculative trading. Yes, ideally we should have laws that break up monopolies and oligopolies, and that put megapolluters and corporate criminals in prison with the rest of the mass murderers and thieves.

But we’re not going to get them. If we wait for them, we’ll wait forever.

Also, ideally, if we were to create working models of a better way to live and make a living, they should attract enough attention that others would emulate them, in sufficient numbers to undermine the old economy. But as my friend Flemming says, sometimes you have to wait for the old deadwood hogging all the sunlight to collapse before the new seeds can germinate (or else you need to be a fungus).

So what can we do while we’re waiting?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Get the facts out: Let people know that the real inflation rate is closer to 10% than 2%. That businesses with over 500 employees are actually destroying more jobs than they’re creating. That over the last 30 years the real income and net wealth of 90% of the population has actually declined (it’s just exploding levels of debt that have created the appearance that people are better off). That affluent nations have produced half of the world’s environmental destruction while paying only 3% of its costs. Tell people what’s really going on with a combination of real (little known or misunderstood) information and clever presentation. Ask people provocative questions. Tell compelling and illuminating stories. Don’t just listen to the misinformation, oversimplification, and propaganda, say something! Most people are capable of critical thinking with a bit of a nudge: They’re just out of practice.
  2. Learn (and then teach) how Natural Enterprise works: We are desperately short of the skills needed to create our own responsible, sustainable, joyful enterprises. You won’t learn it in high school, or business school, or executive training courses, or MBA programs. Unschool yourself. Go out and find and meet with successful entrepreneurs who’ve discovered you don’t have to work 80 hour weeks, mortgage your assets or sell your soul to succeed. Read my book, and/or any of the books listed in its bibliography. Discover the competencies that any enterprise needs. Seek out and partner with people whose unique skills, passions and competencies dovetail with your own and who share your purpose. Learn how to do real, world-class business research, to find out what unmet needs you can fill. Learn how to innovate rigorously, continuously, and effectively. Learn how to make your enterprise powerfully networked and resilient. And then teach all this to others in your community.
  3. Start a grassroots campaign to get people to buy local, buy organic, buy durable quality, and buy less: Be willing to pay more, but expect more for it. Tell the owners (not the sales clerks) of the stores you visit that you won’t buy from them if they sell poor quality crap that takes jobs and dignity away from local workers. Patronize, celebrate, and start businesses who sell only 100% local/organic products. Be patient with new local businesses — quality craftsmanship and quality service are lost arts, that will need to be relearned.
  4. Learn and help others become self-sufficient: Work where you live, even if that means creating new, local, community-based enterprises, so you’re not dependent on cars and oil. Grow your own food. Learn to make and fix your own stuff, including your own clothes. Make your own entertainment (games, music, art, theatre, films, sports), instead of depending on expensive canned entertainment from studios and extravagant commercial establishments. Create local cooperatives for community energy self-sufficiency (renewable of course). Unschool yourself and your children — teach them how to learn for themselves and with and from each other. Value your time more than your money.Do all of these things collectively, in collaboration with those in your community. Trade the products of your know-how for theirs, for free, generously. An economy of self-sufficiency is a Gift Economy, and unlike one based on competition and growth, it’s sustainable.
  5. Extinguish your debts and don’t take on any new ones: Debt and consumption are addictions, and the corporatists are determined to keep you addicted. Break the habit, as quickly and completely as you can. That will probably require you to own less. Are you ready for that? If you judge yourself and let others judge you by how much you own, breaking the habit is going to be doubly difficult, and doubly necessary.
  6. Create local networks: Use technology to organize, trade among your community, and share information. Use these networks to create relationships, and trust, to collaborate and partner, to help find what is needed and ensure it’s of high quality, to innovate together, to keep each other healthy, to create consensus, and to establish Peer Production.
  7. Eat well and look after your health: The industrial health system is approaching total collapse, and the sooner we wean ourselves off it the better. Learn how to research health matters, how to prevent disease and how to diagnose and treat it yourself, as much as possible. Become a vegetarian: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. Stay fit. And be good to yourself — you’re doing all the right stuff!

If enough of us do these things, will it be enough to transform our economy into a responsible, sustainable, joyful, Natural Economy? Probably not. But it will put us in good stead when the industrial economy runs out of steam (and oil).

While we can work now to starve the industrial economy of the four things it values from us (our tax dollars, our cheap and obedient labour, our consumption of cheap imported crap, and our attention to its political and commercial propaganda), the scourges of climate change, constant ever-expanding wars, overpopulation, the End of Oil, the End of Water, the Death of the Seas, the Death of the Forests, human pandemics, pandemic diseases of farmed animals and monoculture plants, and bioterror, will collectively bring that economy to its knees.

It won’t go easily, however, and as it slowly collapses it will be the poor and the young who will suffer the brunt of its struggle to keep going — desperate and indiscriminate drilling in the oceans and arctic, strip-mining for dirty coal and bitumen sludge, privatization of scarce water, massive incarceration and curtailment of civil freedoms, more cities written off like New Orleans, ghastly famines and floods in struggling nations, the eradication of life savings and pensions, the collapse of health systems, expropriation of property, soaring suicide rates, and unimaginable ubiquitous poverty.

At that point those who have started the transition to a Natural Economy will be able to withstand the collapse of the industrial economy, and will be the pioneers of its replacement. The transition is likely to be a painful one for most, unfortunately — all ‘normal curves’ have a sudden and precipitous downside, and studies of past overheated economies and civilizations suggest our economy’s will be no exception.We never seem to learn the lessons of history.

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5 Responses to Making the Transition to a Natural Economy

  1. Mumbai couch potato says:

    Thank you for sharing your recipe for disaster with us.We don’t need an alternative economy, or an alternative world for that matter.As individuals, we just need to control our greed. (I agree with your 5th suggestion)Greed is NOT GOOD

  2. The industrialists, bankers, and politicians worked together to creat an economy that was about as sustainable as a multi-level-marketing scam. We’re now seeing an end to it. If there is a hope of continuing any semblance of modern civilization, it will only happen if we change our mindsets about consumption, reexamine what our real needs are, and immediately begin making dramatic changes in the way we live and engage in economic trade.

  3. David Parkinson says:

    You say: “… those who have started the transition to a Natural Economy will be able to withstand the collapse of the industrial economy…”I suggest: “… those who have started the transition to a Natural Economy will be more likely to withstand the collapse of the industrial economy…”Otherwise, I agree entirely. I wonder if there are ways of getting the message out there more quickly that it’s time to start building new structures. It’s still business as usual to an alarming degree.

  4. David Parkinson says:

    Speaking of business as usual, I guess you saw this gem.Oh boy.

  5. mattbg says:

    David, I don’t think there is a way of getting the message received more quickly. I think you just have to make yourself easy to find when people decide that something new is needed. In the meantime, you can be easy to find for people that already see some of the problems ahead.Anyone heavily tied up in the current system, whether by debt, marriage, cachet, social networks or otherwise will see some of Dave’s suggestions as utopian and unattainable, and the rest as some faction of conspiracy theory. Who is my next door neighbour, for example, to tell me that inflation is really 10% when the government economists are saying that it’s only 2%? Why spend hours a week growing my own food when a head of lettuce costs less than a dollar in the supermarket? And don’t you know that debt is the new necessary evil that nobody can avoid these days?I’ve never been married, but I see marriage as it’s commonly used these days as a big obstacle. I don’t reject marriage, but I question the way it’s used in general these days. One side uses the other side as a reason why something can’t be done because “he doesn’t like it”, or “she doesn’t like it”. The marriage itself is often just a road toward asset accumulation and a way of cutting expenses. Sadly, I don’t think this way of using it is going away. We went from women going into marriage because of dependency, to independence for both parties, to a situation where both men and women need it for co-dependency. Men and women may soon be equally dependent on a marriage to run a household, neither one being able to carry the expenses alone.The latter problem was highlighted a few months ago when I saw a Conservative type on Canadian TV talking about how we shouldn’t be focusing on declining individual income but should instead be focusing on small increases in family income — essentially that 2 earners are making a little bit more than 1 earner used to, though those terms aren’t used…. and the left-wing representative — afeminist — starts agreeing and highlighting what a positive contribution women have been making to the increase in family income.

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