A program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the New Rules Project started back in 1998 and continues to bring fresh new policy solutions to communities and states to ensure that they are “designing rules as if community matters”.
- It Takes a City – How better rules and regulations promote local self-reliance – this excellent article by David Morris published in In Character magazine (February 2007) provides a fantastic overview of the reasons behind our New Rules Project.
- Communities: Building Authority, Responsibility, and Capacity A good overview article on the concept of local self reliance by David Morris, published in State of the Union, 1994.
The New Rules Projects features a number of policy areas and several key programs and initiatives, including: The Hometown Advantage, Telecommunications as Commons Initiative, Biofuels and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles, and Climate Neutral Bonding. Meet our staff.
Why New Rules?
Because the old ones don’t work any longer. They undermine local economies, subvert democracy, weaken our sense of community, and ignore the costs of our decisions on the next generation.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The rules call for:
- Decisions made by those who will feel the impact of those decisions.
- Communities accepting responsibility for the welfare of their members and for the next generation.
- Households and communities possessing or owning sufficient productive capacity to generate real wealth.
These are the principles of “new localism.” They call upon us to begin viewing our communities and our regions not only as places of residence, recreation and retail but as places that nurture active and informed citizens with the skills and productive capacity to generate real wealth and the authority to govern their own lives.
All human societies are governed by rules. We make the rules and the rules make us. Thus, the heart of this web site is a growing storehouse of community and local economy-building rules – laws, regulations, and ordinances – because these are the concrete expression of our values. They channel entrepreneurial energy and investment capital and scientific genius. The New Rules Project identifies rules that honor a sense of place and prize rootedness, continuity and stability as well as innovation and enterprise.
Click on any of the sectors listed and you will be taken to a web page that contains a list of categories of policy tools appropriate for that sector.
Questions and Answers
Isn’t it unrealistic to expect communities to be self-sufficient? Yes, it is. Localism does not mean self-sufficiency. Nations are not self-sufficient, and neither are communities. But nations that are self-conscious and self-determining are stronger because of it. The same holds true for communities.
But aren’t there economies of scale? Yes, but empirical evidence has shown us that in many important areas–education, health, manufacturing, farming, the generation of power, for instance–it is not globalism and bigness, but localism and smallness that are more cost-effective, more profitable, more environmentally benign, more democratic, more enduring. The only thing that smallness lacks is power, the power to make the rules.
Doesn’t localism pose a threat to those who are not in the majority? Doesn’t it allow those with means, or power, to secede from responsibility for the whole, leaving the powerless behind? If localism were absolute, yes, it would do that. But it is not. Localism is an approach that allows us to sort out which roles are appropriate for which levels of government. Guarantees of basic rights must come from the federal level. Higher levels of government appropriately should set floors–e.g., a minimum wage or a minimum level of environmental compliance or minimum guarantees of political rights– but not ceilings. They should not pre-empt lower levels of government from exceeding those minimums (as international trade agreements do, for instance.)
Why would localism guarantee efficient, environmentally benign development? It doesn’t. There are no guarantees in a true democracy, because power rests with the citizens. But it does create the possibility. And without localism, we are guaranteed the opposite: rootless corporations with no allegiance to place, other than to the place with the lowest wages and least environmental restrictions; long lines of transportation, which are inherently polluting; and out-of-scale development that wrecks neighborhoods and destroys habitat. By its very nature, localism would shorten transportation lines, encourage rooted businesses, demand an active citizenry. Localism is a development concept that would enable humanly-scaled, environmentally healthy, politically active, economically robust communities.
Isn’t localism simply nostalgia for a simpler time? No. Just as globalism is mistaken for progress, localism is often confused with a desire to reverse technology, or turn back the clock. There is nothing inherently progressive about globalization, and there is nothing inherently backwards-looking about localism. Localism has to do with (1) where decisions are made, and (2) the principles guiding those decisions. Those are issues that will and should remain central to society throughout time.
Is localism anti-technology? The new localism relies on some of the most sophisticated technologies (e.g. integrated pest management, flexible manufacturing, solar cells.) At the end of the 19th century, as we switched from wood to steel, from water wheels to fossil fueled central power plants, and from craft shops to mass production, technology seemed to demand larger scale production systems and economies. At the end of the 20th century, as we switch from minerals to vegetables, from fossil fuels to solar energy, and from mass production to batch production, technological progress encourages decentralized, localized economies.