A Small Medium @ Large

“In other words, the real problem is not exterior.  The real problem is interior.  The real problem is how to get people to internally transform, from egocentric to socio-centric to world-centric consciousness, which is the only stance that can grasp the global dimensions of the problem in the first place, and thus the only stance that can freely, even eagerly, embrace the global solutions.”  (Ken Wilber) 

The Benefits of Economic Decentralization- Part One

In the early days of this column, I introduced the notion of taking a bioregional approach to the radical relocalization of our Ozark economy. This, I claim, is the best way to steward our watershed ecologies and to regain a united sense of purpose.  Today I want to remind the thoughtful reader, with all of the power and clarity I can hope to muster through simple renditions of historic themes, of the volatility of our times and the necessity of turning to timely economic solutions. 

I reject the traditional partisan approach to restoring a healthy human community as futile and quaint; there’s nothing wrong in pointing out that the Ozarks are bleeding dry through identity politics and emotionalism.  Voting remains a fine expression of civic duty, but too late have we realized the global dimensions, too late do we hold our representatives to a cost-benefit analysis of their leadership.   And the reckoning reveals a long story of economic, societal and spiritual decline.  

Instead, I’ve emphasized the fact of our threefold relationship to the cosmos, and included some ideas for initiating a vibrant economy.  Key elements include the Transfer of Wealth (TOW) donations as put into locally managed, watershed Charitable Foundations (WCF); the incentivizing of a youthful “land rush” by mentoring a return to small farm operations, and creating a demurrage form of currency to simultaneously build wealth and democratize community resilience.

The Farm Resettlement Congress’ theme of relocalization has a political aspect, namely, it is a vehicle for extending significant decision making authority to the citizen, and comes coupled to a higher degree of personal responsibility.  The Plan represents a process of inserting democratic power to local communities and local institutions, a process called decentralization.  Fundamental considerations of fairness to both humans and nature can inform this process, resulting in the combination of protective and economic productive functions in the same area.

A major economic reformation requires instituting a series of positive steps that simultaneously protect liberty, deliver wealth-generating results, and increases individual and environmental health.  Along the way, we can also cut the size and cost of government.  How?  For starters, I’d like to introduce Switzerland, a country with a long and peaceful experience with decentralization and federalism.  

Swiss forestry laws date from 1876, and have involved citizen management and responsibility for place, that offer a time-tested model for tying together the main themes I have introduced.  The principle of combining protective and productive functions in the same area was born over 140 years ago, and the stable relationship between public and private land owners, and the Canton (analogous to state level) emerged as a precondition for long term land management.  

Switzerland’s 26 cantons are comprised of about 3,000 political communes (watershed-linked communities).  The nation itself grew out of treaties between valley basins, townships and other geographical units.  In other words, because of terrain and isolated communities, folks governed themselves from a bioregional stance from the outset.  When the Constitution of the Swiss Federation was enacted, resources management and conservation were to be shared by the Federal level in Berne, the regional state (canton), and the local community level, its citizens being the main forest and farm owner (caretakers) in Switzerland.  

Combining conservation with production in shared water and soil resources characterizes the decentralized land management and conservation principles in Switzerland, but can be transposed largely whole-cloth to the Ozark’s own “valley basins.”  I offer these elements of a decentralized farm, forest, and conservation model as key considerations for (a), those landowners ready to form a TOW charitable foundation within their own watershed and (b), as the basis for a Food Security Summit that has long been envisioned by food freedom activists, environment scientists, economists, bioregionalists, legal and political theorists. 

The characteristics of the Swiss model include:

• The importance of capacities, as well as decision-making power and accountability at the local level;

• Strong, guiding provisions at the federal and state level and the subsidiarity principle;

• The development of a ‘cooperative federalism,’ in which all three levels- local, state and federal- have clear responsibilities;

• The length and time to develop co-operative federalism;

• The need to build institutional capacity from the local level to the federal level, which historically (USA) is the reverse case, with state and federal monies spent on bureaucracies, policies and top-down enforcement.

• The Charitable Foundation model specifically obviates state paternalism by hiring its own experts, as highly qualified in the sciences, and who operate in direct relationship with their regulatory counterparts.  These watershed residents’ salaries are paid by the community, not by general tax revenues;

• This principle is called ‘Coupled Contribution,’ by which the costs of providing environmental services such as protective functions are shared among three levels (not the two levels we have presently).

• The positive relations between local political decision-making and centralized technical guidance over state and federal lands, and its reflection/coordination with private forest and farm landowners, are the precondition for achieving the long-term economic goals of a given watershed basin’s Charitable Foundation.

• The constant need to seek and maintain a new equilibrium among these three levels of government is recognized among the participant private and public landowners, especially with the aim of protecting the welfare, heritage, and civil society priorities of the watershed foundation charters, particularly in light of the current economic pressures of globalization and the related cross-sectorial “influences” on our elected officials.

These considerations are the crux of the FRC’s 20 Year Plan to restore food and energy freedom to Ozark watershed communities, an area that compares fairly well to the Swiss situation in both size and population.  The foundational aim of the resettlement movement is decentralization, or re-democratization, at the same scale.  I present the FRC 20 Year Plan as the next, evolutionary step in a millennium-long devolution of power.  That is, the emerging frontier is a localized and populist-led economic reformation.  It’s the latest development in the three-way battle between the Crown/State, between collective corporate freedom (Church, Universities, tradesmen guilds etc.), and the merchant class free-traders.  

The Church gained the right to govern itself in the 11th century.  Until then, there was no protection from kings and wealthy elites who had absolute control over the tools of violence to enforce their wills over the rest of society.  “Libertas Ecclesia,” which defined the corporate liberty of the Church, gave its monasteries and universities the freedom to govern themselves.  Within the jurisdiction of these institutions, a rudimentary form of individualism was protected by the corporate local entity.  We still speak of “academic freedom” to this day.

The first universities, and the trade guilds that followed during the era of great cathedral-building era and plague, comprised the corporate bodies of the Old Order.  All of them had something in common: they put up some walls to defend themselves against the tyrannical impulses of kings.  These early corporations used laws, not arms, to protect the internal, self-governing space of the early university, ecclesiastical, and commercial spheres of society.  We must well understand this:  To defend our liberty is to defend the rule of law altogether.

Over time, European populations exploded, and commerce and new wealth followed until, by the 16th century, a societal breakout from the feudal guilds, corporations, universities, etc., became inevitable.  These Old Order corporations were overtaken by all kinds of intermediate bodies which extended the freedoms of the individual outside a system of state persecution and punishment.  The shield of corporate law rode along with this devolution of power and, under the right of habeas corpus, blocked much of the extrajudicial power of kings.

Until then, ruling elites could arrest, torture or kill an individual for any reason, or no reason at all.  Now there was a line drawn against summary executions, secret police, torture, capricious jailing etc.  Modern notions of individual freedom, as an outgrowth of corporate liberty, progressed in tandem with the expansion of State violence and power in the Age of Empire, until the itch for self-governance blossomed in the American Revolution.  This marked a transition from medieval to modern concepts of individual liberties, and coming with it, the fundamental question of classical Liberalism:  “What does a free social order look like?”