Editor's note: In response to the
"Call for Action" issued by author Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Mike
Morin presents a funding system for sustainable communities.
"What measures can people of limited means
undertake to ease their transition into a post-technological world?"
Synopsis: People can organize and invest
in their neighborhoods and regions.
In light of the coming
shortages in oil (peakoil.net,
culturechange.org) and the
destruction of our natural environment, ecosystems, and habitats, that are
caused by the current paradigm of corporate conglomerate capitalism (davidkorten.org),
we are facing the dire need to restructure our socio-economic systems to a
strategy of global relocalization (postcarbon.org).
So much has been written
about our environmental predicament and strategies to avoid environmental
and economic collapse that I can only present a cursory overview of the
situation. I offer my apologies to all those who have done and/or are doing
great work whom I have not included. In my adult lifetime (approximately
thirty years), many people have been working to develop paradigms for
community re-development and ecological evolution. A pioneering work was, of
course, Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. Other initiatives
sprung up such as the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ilsr.org), RAIN, and Eco-City Berkeley (ecocitybuilders.org)
among others. The interest, formation, and participation in eco-villages and
intentional communities has been growing (ecovillages.org)
. New urbanism has become a popular mantra among architects and planners (cnu.org)
Still, there is a missing
piece to all this. If we are to reorganize our socio-economic systems to
live in ecological, lower energy, more self-reliant and self-sufficient
local and (bio)regional (i.e. global relocalization), we need a mechanism to
change the way that resources are allocated to and within our communities.
According to Lewis Mumford
the word eutopian means good place and outopian means no place. Long ago, so
called eutopian socialists such as Fourier, Owen, and St. Simon, among
others, formulated and wrote about cooperative community development
structures. Such was the beginning of the notion of socialism in western
culture. Many intentional communities developed as the result of their
efforts. More enduring was the creation of cooperative or mutual business
structures. These are often referred to as economic democracies where
direction of the organization is set up in a one person, one vote scheme.
Probably the most successful effort in recent years has been the worker
cooperatives of the Mondragon Society in the Basque region of Spain (mondragon.mcc.es)
. Since its humble beginnings in 1956, this society of workersí
cooperatives has grown to a conglomerate cooperative corporation employing
and owned by more than 30,000 workers.
Based on the study of the
early cooperative communitarians, comparative economic systems, the
Mondragon system and other modern cooperatives, and the assessment of our
current situation, I have come up with somewhat of a new paradigm for the
funding of cooperative community development organization.
The core group of the
concept is the Neighborhood Improvement Fund. I can visualize neighbors
forming eco-villages and coming together in larger neighborhood
cooperatives. The neighborhood cooperatives would then form a union on the
regional level and various regional organizations (Unions of Neighborhood
Improvement Funds or UNIF) would form an alliance with the other regions in
the world. The organization(s) would be based on the following principles:
-cooperation (economic democracy)
-peace and tranquility
-production and access to essential goods and services
-primacy of the pedestrian/walkability/new urbanism
-economy and humanity of scale
-life long education
discussion and work in the area of community development finance relates to
lending and micro-enterprises. The trouble with such strategies is that
small businesses have a very high failure rate because they cannot compete
with capitalist conglomerates. They are at an acute disadvantage with
respect to economy of scale and risk diversification (i.e. conglomerates who
are making good profits in one division can afford to forego profits in
another endeavor in order to survive a period of intense competition). The
problem with the emphasis on lending is that highly leveraging a business is
usually a bad strategy since lenders have the first claim on
I propose is the formation of equity unions and amalgamated/conglomerate
cooperatives. My proposal is as follows:
As Einstein said,
Imagination is more important than knowledge. I would like to think that the
following plan has solid grounding in both. It is based on eutopian
socialist models and represents a most ethical approach to economic
restructuring. The prospects of radically rearranging how resources are allocated to and within
communities may be slim yet may be the best hope for the human and non-human
communities. Here it is:
Start in our (and all) neighborhoods, a Neighborhood Improvement Fund.
Each adult resident in the neighborhood would voluntarily invest (e.g. from $10 to $100 a year) in a mutual fund to be held in local credit unions. The
purpose of the fund would be to create access to necessities (food, household goods, hardware, building supplies, office products, appropriate
transportation and energy and conservation, health items and services, education services, etc.) at the local level (i.e. within walking distance
of all residents). The mutual fund would make investments only in community and worker owned (hybrid) cooperatives. All decision making would be
democratic with a one-person one-vote system, democratically elected Board, and a referendum system.
There would be an association or union of NIFs and we would encourage more wealthy neighborhoods to donate to poorer neighborhoods (perhaps through a
501(c)(3) vehicle). Through the Union of NIFs (UNIF), the NIFs would cooperate to achieve the benefits of economy of scale, (and) bulk buying.
Involvement in many business segments would create the competitive advantage
of risk diversification.
Join Mike Morin's
discussion group at