A pandemic – suddenly they are closing borders and the world feels different. What will it come to? There is a freeze on immigration; will there be a cutback on imported goods as well? It feels like we are being asked to do more on a very local level. Suddenly our sense of control is reduced. Maybe that is why we have had the run on supplies of toilet paper!
Fresh produce is the most vulnerable part of our basic-essentials. But are our supply lines for lots of other things also under threat? For the last month in our local supermarkets there have been no sanitary-cleaning products, only empty shelves where they used to belong. And when I look at the packaging, I see that these simplest of products are ‘Made in China’. Why? These products only need high school level chemistry education for the manufacturing process. We can easily make them. But we do not manufacture them here because the cheapest option is the imported product.
Now imports are threatened – is there a local source available? If so, the retail system based on globalized supplies is coming into question. People are certainly doubting the capability of our globalized-capitalist retail world to work for them.
I have heard many commentators in recent times saying that capitalism is on its way out – its dying. I think of my favourite call coming from the climate change activists – ‘change the system, not the climate!’ But to think of the reality of this change is scary. It might be an ugly system, but there is a system, a sense of order; if we lose the system what chaos will we see? I am no fan of capitalism, but if it is going down let’s think hard about what will replace it! And there I have a suggestion!
I am looking at a philosophy – Progressive Utilisation Theory – that puts ‘localization’ on the agenda, offering a new way for the whole picture of economy – local and the world! – more on that later!
But first of all – localization.
So, there is scarcity on various cleaning goods. There has also been a run on vege-seedlings from the shops, as people act to ensure their food supply by getting home production going. Now that is localization in the extreme. We could feel secure if production was in our ordinary suburban range. I only have to think back to my childhood to know that lots of food can be generated in the district.
There used to be market gardens producing lots of daily essentials, there were fruit trees – stone fruit, lemons, apples, and there were almonds and walnuts. The dairy was nearby supplying fresh milk and cream, and meat was available nearby – and lots more. And for all of this there was local employment.
Yes, there is scope for a good deal of localized production of food.
But our sense of ‘taking control’ will not be enough to allow any relaxation unless we can feel that all basic essentials are covered. Let’s start with food, clothing and shelter. Can we localise all of this?
As I think of childhood, I note the significant part that domestic economy played. The way women would sew and knit for clothing needs. And as far as shelter goes – building – we had local sources for bricks, cement – made from local limestone quarries, some timber, roofing, tiling, fencing and more.
Much of this can be re-mobilised (and modernised as well).
Is there any forerunner to learn from? About 1968-9 there was a strong anti-capitalist movement that seriously disrupted many parts of the world – notably Paris and San Francisco were brought to their knees. Another direction emerged – the emergence of ‘hippy culture’ allowed a different approach – they didn’t want to change the system, they wanted a new one! And it spawned an interesting experiment. Instead of trying to change the system they went to making a new parallel system. The settlement pattern was to be the ‘commune’ which gathered people together, tilled the soil and generated produce to feed the members, and all were to be of equal status. Many communes were made – and more were dreamed of – but without great success. It takes more than food to satisfy basic needs! So, redesigning the economy needs a lot of thought. It needs good design. And that is where the progressive utilisation theory comes in. (I will refer to it by it’s acronym – Prout).
Prout suggests the basic essentials have to include food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education. And the commune movement shows that an economic unit can be too small. At the same time the disruption we are finding in the mainstream economy today shows that the economic unit can be too big. What then is the best size?
Prout suggests that much can be done in local districts – think of the space you move in with familiarity – where are the local shops, and where schools are, and medical centres. For me in a suburb of a medium size city, it is all available within 5 or 10kms from home.
Now that is just about the size of the local municipality – and it matches Prout’s recommended size. Prout speaks of local ‘blocks’ of about 100,000 people, which should be as resilient as possible.
So the block, even now, has access to the basic essentials that we would consume. But it can be reshaped to become a producer of many of these basic products. As I have said before, many foods can be produced, some clothing, much of the needed building materials, as well as facilities for the local needs for education and medical care.
Now Prout believes an egalitarian spirit can prevail, and sees the block as a vibrant element of a dynamic socio-economic administration. Prout would make co-operatives the main business structure for the economy, it would make a strong ecological approach – and shape agriculture to that stance. It would guarantee basic needs for everyone, and make it available by making employment for all.
Now the society has many needs beyond the basic necessities and to facilitate their supply the blocks have to be embedded in regions, and states, and nations and on up to the global level.
Prout provides guidance about how they should be structured, and deals with many more aspects that are part of the whole economy- think of electricity and water, communications and international links such as airlines.
And, of course, the whole picture of economics, and its accompanying social and political outlook is vast. But I can only recommend that everyone would do well to look further into this beacon of hope that is Prout for our world going into the future.
By Malcolm McDonell