Reclaiming Community

A presention by David Morris, Institute for Local Self-Reliance to the Sixteenth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures in Stockbridge, Mass achusetts, October 26, 1996

It’sa pleasure to be here. Given that I am speaking to you from a pulpit, I might begin my talk with fire and brimstone, “Brothers and Sisters and Children of God, repent. Avoid the temptations of centralization and walk into the light of smallness and humanly scaled systems.”

Butdespite the setting, I’m not here to deliver a sermon but rather to initiate a conversation about scale and authority and responsibility. I’m especially honored to be here under the auspices of the E. F. Schumacher Society because in many ways it was Fritz Schumacher who was responsible for educating this generation about the pervasive implications of scale.

Cooperation, Competition, and Local Self-Reliance

Butbefore Schumacher there was Leopold Kohr and before him Ghandi and Borsodi and before them the man who may well be considered the father of them all: Peter Kropotkin, prince, world-famous Russian scientist, geographer, and political activist. In Kropotkin’s time, Darwin unveiled his controversial theory of evolution, and Herbert Spencer, the British scientist, transformed that theory into a school of thought that came to be known as Social Darwinism. It was Spencer who coined the term “survival of the fittest.” Spencer adopted the dog-eat-dog metaphor from nature that Darwin used to justify the savagery of industrial capit alism in the nineteenth century.

Duringthis time Peter Kropotkin spent an extended stay in Siberia and studied its animal life. He found that in the animal kingdom mutual aid and cooperation, not competition, was the way the fittest survived. In nature it was not the tooth and claw metaphor that Darwin chose as his metaphor to explain evolution that seemed most compelling but the metaphor that Euell Gibbons proposed a hundred years later of the bee and flower. The flower makes itself attractive through scent and color to the bee, who arrives, snuggles and, when it moves on to the next flower, pollinates and perpetuates the species.

Havingwitnessed with his own eyes how mutual aid and cooperation characterized the animal kingdom, Kropotkin went on to explore their place in human societies. I commend to you his seminal book, Mutual Aid, especially his remarkable chapter on medieval cities, to this day the most succinct and well-documented refutation of the notion that small communities are backwaters of art and culture and technology. Indeed, a thousand years ago hundreds of communities no larger than Stockbridge were producing works of art and science and civil engineering and governance that would make a Los Angeles or New York green with envy.

Kropotkin had been dead for more than fifty years when I first met Fritz Schumacher. I was on the Board of Directors of a fledgling enterprise in Butte, Montana called the Nation al Center for Appropriate Technology. The Board invited Dr. Schumacher to Butte to deliver a public address and to spend half a day with us. He was forthcoming and diplomatic, as was his wont, and quite candid. He admonished us that the Center, being federally funded, was going to find it difficult to effectively promote decentralized capacities. And although he didn’t come right out and say so, I think he was a bit miffed that the federal bureaucrats had used his writings- in fact the Center had been inspired by Schumacher – and then had altered his considered phrase “intermediate technology” to the more general and less meaningful term “appropriate technology.”

Schumacherunderstood how important language is. The term “intermediate technology” meant a technology between high and low, a technology superior to the primitive, labor-intensive techniques used by poor peoples around the world, but far less capital intensive than the centralized, high tech solutions offered the poor by the industrialized world. “Appropriate technology” had no concrete meaning, since for some a nuclear power plant is appropriate while to others a team of oxen is.

I’ve come to understand Schumacher’s interest in language. In 1974 I and two others founded the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and ever since people have been getting our name wrong. Now I’ll be the first to admit that our name doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as does General Motors or U.S. Steel. But it is not all that hard. Nevertheless, in over 90 percent of the cases people will get it wrong and in 99 percent of those cases they will drop the word “local”. When I was on the Today Show, the interviewer was reading from the teleprompter and still dropped “local.” When I give lectures, I provide a short bio to help people introduce me . They invariably drop “local”. After it happened a hundred times I began to wonder if maybe something else was going on here.

Here’s what I think. Americans have trouble associating the word “local” with the word “self-reliance”. We resonate to the term “self-reliance” because we are a nation that elevates the individual above all. But “local self-reliance” implies an interdependence between the individual and the community, and a relationship between the local community and distant communities, that is unfamiliar and even a bit alien to most Americans.

Yet it is precisely those relationships which I believe will define our politics in the 21st century.

Iam glad to be presenting this address in Stockbridge, although I confess to having had some reticence about discussing the history of this town to this informed and locally based audience. But this morning I spoke to the young woman, a native of Stockbridge, who is managing the bed and breakfast where I am staying. I asked her, “What do you know about Daniel Shay?” She responded, “Who?”

“You mean you don’t talk about Shay’s Rebellion in your public schools here in Stockbridge?”

“I don’t think we do.”

Wellthen, maybe I should devote a couple of minutes to this very important episode in American history. Some 225 years ago the colonies rose up and declared their economic and political independence of Great Britain. Indeed, we declared our economic independence even before we declared our political independence. In 1774 Sam Adams went around the emerging nation preaching the gospel of manufacturing, the gospel of local production. People who graduated from Yale and Harvard wore robes of local fibers, not imported fibers as a sign of protest and a badge of honor. America’s first Chamber of Commerce in New York urged a boycott on English products.

In response, England declared war on us. We fought that war under our first national governance structure, the Articles of Confederation, sometimes called the constitution of the revolution because it embodied the values of the Declaration of Independence by maximizing individual and local autonomy.

After the successful war, weary soldiers returned home only to find their lands being taken away because of debts that could not be settled with the paper money they had been paid. To this day we sometimes hear the expression, something’s “not worth a Continental.” Daniel Shays, an ex-army captain from Stockbridge, organized other ex-soldiers, walked into the local courthouse, and stopped judges from signing eviction notices that stripped people of their land.

A shock wave swept through the colonies. Boston sent troops into western Massachusetts,. The leaders of the colonies, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were persuaded that the national crisis was so severe that they should lend their considerable prestige to an illegal and unconstitutional secret meeting in Philadelphia where several dozen of their countrymen were gathering to forge a new governance structure.

Thatnew governance structure, of course, was the United States Constitution. Our history books explain that it was an instrument essential in allowing us to become a dominant world power. That may be true. Those same books, if they mention the Articles of Confederation at all, refer to it as an awkward and ineffectual document.

Whatwould have happened if we had continued under the Articles of Confederation? Conceivably, we might have ended up looking a lot like Canada, which provides its provinces with much more power than we do our states. Or possibly, the U.S. would now consist of three or four or a dozen countries rather than one. Would the world, or our communities, have been worse or better off if either of these scenarios had occurred?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that under the Articles of Confederation we fought the mightiest nation in the world, and won. Under the Articles of Confederation we passed the Northwest Ordinance, a remarkable document which developed a unique mechanism for sharing power with newly created states from western territories. Under the Articles of Confederation we developed a sense of being Americans while at the same time retaining a firm sense of local place.

Globalism and Localism

Morethan two hundred years after Shay’s Rebellion led to the Constitutional Convention and the creation of the United States of America, some of the same tensions that existed then still exist, although on a different scale.

One tension is between the local and the global, or more concretely, between the globalization of economies and the localization of politics. People are convinced we need an increasingly globalized economy. Yet they also are insisting ona renewed sense of place and on more say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Economic power is becoming ever-more centralized. Of the one hundred largest economic units in the world, fifty are corporations. Meanwhile, political power is becoming ever-more decentralized. The number of nations in the world has more than doubled since 1950, and within nations more and more regions are gaining significant autonomy.

The second fundamental tension is between the individual and the community or more concretely, between our role as consumers/investors and our role as citizens. To more and more of us, the most effective way to shape the future is through individual decisions regarding spending or investment rather than through collective decision making through the ballot box.

Manyconservatives argue, “We vote every two years for a representative who we may never see or speak to and who votes on our behalf without ever asking our opinions. That’s called democracy. But we vote every day when we make a purchase. Moreover, while the decision in the voting booth costs us nothing except some time, the decision in the store forces us to put our money where our choices are. Isn’t that a more effective and possibly a more democratic form of decision making?”

Policymakers of all ideological stripes are shrinking our authority as citizens while expanding our role as consumers. The twin revolutions of privatization and deregulation are sweeping the planet. Today we believe that the essential function of government is to allow us the ability to choose.

The tension between the local and the global and between the individual as consumer and the individual as citizen stem, I firmly believe, from the same fundamental design flaws in our societies: bigness and separation.

We have separated the farmer from the kitchen, the power plant from the appliance, the worker from the workplace, the banker from the depositor and the borrower – and ultimately, the government from the citizen. We have separated those who make the decisions from those who feel the impact of those decisions.

One could make the argument that when we moved from wood to steel, when we moved from water to fossil fuels, when we moved from home production to mass production, we moved almost inevitably from small to big. It’s a legitimate argument, although Kropotkin persuasively argued against ita hundred years ago. But at the twilight of the twentieth century, the technological argument is hollow. We are moving from fossil fuels to more diffused and widely available renewable fuels. We are moving from steel to plastics and from mass production to flexible manufacturing. Thus the technologies of the future, in the words of the late economist John Blair, could well be centrifugal in their results.

Small is Beautiful Everywhere

Schumachertaught us that small is beautiful. I love simple, declarative statements, especially when they are so true. No matter what sector we examine, Schumacher’s conclusion appears right and timely. School buildings in big cities are being divided up – into three, four, sometimes eight autonomous schools, and learning improves and grade scores soar.

In one city in Oklahoma the black community, after 30 years of having their kids bussed across town for the sake of racial integration, decided to revive the neighborhood school, despite the fact that this would lead to an effectively segregated school. They did so out of desperation, because racial integration had not improved their children’s test scores or drop out rates. The result? Scores went up. When the principal was asked why, he noted that neighborhood schools allowed for more interaction between parents and teachers. The proximity of the parent to the school improved the educational progress of their children.

Weare discovering that “small is better” in the manufacturing sector too: small business creates the most jobs, generates the most patents and has the most benefits for the local economy. In Baltimore a company called the Chesapeake Packaging Corporation tried the same approach taken by some schools. The company divided its building in half, creating two virtually identical firms within an existing physical structure. When management first considered this, its consultant cautioned, “There are economies of scale here. If you divide this building in two, you will have two loading docks and two computer systems and duplicate paperwork and management structures. Your costs will skyrocket.”

The president of the company went ahead anyway. The result? Productivity doubled! Profits tripled. Why? Because the workers are now closer to the production process, closer to the decision-making process, and closer to management.

Smallis the way we are increasingly producing electric power. Small power plants, we are discovering, are more efficient, cheaper to build, and can come on-line more quickly, thereby more effectively matching supply and demand.

The average-size power plant being built in 1996 is, depending on the fuel source, between 40 and 80 percent smaller than the average-size plant built in 1980. And this year several companies introduced micro-turbines, which are some 95 percent smaller than a typical nuclear power plant.

And what about that most mobile of all parts of the economy–capital? In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government deregulated the savings and loan industry in the United States. In effect, the nation allowed its S&Ls to uncouple from their communities. Many did. The result? A financial collapse that forced taxpayers to pay over $200 billion to bailout the industry. Researchers who looked back over this era discovered that those savings and loan institutions that stuck to their knitting, that continued to offer local loans and refused to geographically diversify their portfolios did far better than their footloose brethren.

In the banking sector, Congress has opened wide the door to concentration and we have witnessed a resulting orgy of mergers and acquisitions. Economists promised us higher efficiencies. After all, instead of ten or fifteen small community-based banks all with their own boards of directors and their own overhead, we now have one board and one overhead component. Instead of banks which put all their eggs in one local basket, giant banks would have a more secure and profitable diversified portfolio.

Well,reality has a way of confounding economic theories. It turns out that small banks are at least as profitable as their giant brethren. At the local level the banker often knows the borrower and thus can make a loan on the basis of personal knowledge about that borrower’s creditworthiness. And the borrower knows the banker and therefore feels an obligation to repay the loan even in bad times.

Todaywe are witnessing the beginnings of a revolution in manufacturing that can profoundly affect the future size and structure of that sector. Consider the recent dynamics in publishing.

In 1984, Apple Computer came out with the first laser printer, and that laser printer established a new industry–desktop publishing. Anyone who received a desktop publishing document in 1984 knew where it came from- a laser printer. It was not typeset quality. Now, in 1996, you can get a laser printer that is typeset quality and prints twenty pages or more per minute. Bookbinding technology has not had moved quite as rapidly in downsizing its breakeven point, but it is moving in the same direction.

What does this mean? That we can conceive of a time when bookstores will become manufacturing as well as retail enterprises. I have written four books. Here’s how the process of publishing still works. I write the book and send the manuscript to an editor. The editor edits it, bluelines it, and sends it to a typesetter. The typesetter sends it to a printer, the printer sends it to a binder, the binder to a warehouse, and the warehouse to the bookstore. And if insufficient people bought the book, it is trucked to a landfill or recycled.

In the future bookstores will still exist. Books would still line their shelves, but there would be only one copy of each title the bookstore owner felt his or her clientele would like. The bookstore would have a computer, where you could call up books, and read sections. Then if you wanted to buy a book, the clerk would show you to the coffee room and ask you to wait a few minutes and they’d print the book out in the publishing wing of the store. Want a big font to make the book easier to read? No problem. Pay a little extra and you can get a better looking cover as well.

Whathappens if we move in that direction? We’ve eliminated inventory. We’ve eliminated almost all the middle people. You couldn’t ask for a more efficient production system because you don’t produce something unless you have a buyer for it. I don’t believe the book will cost any less than it does now, but the way the revenue is divided up will be very different. A small amount will go for the storage and the information system, and the rest will be split between the retailer and the producer/author.

We can take that same laser technology and produce physical products as well as books from it. A number of different processes are now available. In printing a beam of light goes back and forth across a piece of paper. In stereolithography a beam of light goes back and forth across a screen that rises out of a vat of plastic or plastic-like material. When the beam passes over the plastic material, it solidifies it. The screen carrying the plastic solution slowly rises and eventually a three dimensional, solid product emerges.

Stereolithography is being used now in hospitals, where you can transform a three-dimensional x-ray into a physical model in a few minutes. It is used in manufacturing centers, where you can make models and test them out before you move to mass production. There is talk of having these manufacturing units on military destroyers and battleships so that out at sea they could produce an important part.

As this manufacturing technique improves its ability to make load bearing products we might expect that more parts of the retail economy will add on a manufacturing component. We could make cups, utensils, and hundreds of other items on-site.

Fritz Schumacher’s objective was an economy characterized by local production from local resources for local consumption. Yet information by its nature is global. Thus we can envision a globalized information economy and a localized physical economy. In the future we will import a good idea, a patent, a piece of software, a good design, a good book from anywhere, but we will produce it locally.

Designing the Rules as If Community Mattered

I’ve proposed that the central and most determining feature of modern economies is the separation of those who make the decisions from those who feel the impact of the decisions. Most of our professors and our policymakers assume that this is an inevitable byproduct of progress and development. To them, we have moved from self-sufficient farming communities to trading city-states to nation states to a global economy, and as those of you familiar with science fiction know, we will soon move into the intergalactic economy era.

Economicevolution has indeed moved us from small to gargantuan over the past 200 years. But this was not an inevitable process. We made the rules. The rules do not made us. We made the rules that channeled investment capital and scientific genius and entrepreneurial energy in directions that resulted in absentee ownership, long-distance distribution lines, separation, insecurity, and dependence.

What would happen if we were to use our genius to develop rules that encouraged the opposite results, rules that couple responsibility and authority, that favor rootedness over mobility, humanly scaled systems over large scaled systems, continuity over change?

This is such an important question that it is tragic that we aren’t going to hear much, if anything, about it from our politicians. In a typical election year candidates now spend more than $1 billion. Little of that is spent on communicating their positions on policy. Not one penny will be spent to address the most fundamental issue of our time: how do we preserve community in an age of globalization?

Well, without formally tossing my hat into the political ring, let me offer a few rules that could encourage an economy as if community mattered.

Backin 1970 we passed the Clean Air Act. It was a major piece of legislation, and one section of that law dealt with smokestack pollution. The remedy was to raise the height of the stack. The design principle at the time was, “Dilution is the solution to pollution.” Of course, as we discovered, dilution is not the solution. Raising the height of the smokestack transformed a local particulate problem into a regional and even international acid rain problem.

Whatwould have happened if in 1970 we had passed a Clean Air Act that instead of raising the stack, lowered it and curved the front of the pipe so that it entered the window of the executive suite? I guarantee you that we would have heard about zero emission factories 25 years before the phrase was conceived.

This year and last year Congress debated a bill that would override the authority of the state of Nevada to say no to becoming the nation’s radioactive-waste dump. Consider this. Nevada has no nuclear reactors. Seventy percent of all Nevadans don’t want to be the nation’s radioactive waste dump. Yet Congress wants to force Nevadans to become responsible for other people’s consumption habits.

At the same time as Congress was debating the Nevada nuclear waste bill it was also debating another bill that would have allowed states the authority to say no to one another’s solid waste.

Both bills gained wide bipartis an support. Yet even a cursory reading of the two bills reveals their inherent inconsistency. One couples authority and responsibility; the other separates it.

If think that if we put the question to the average citizen, we would get the following response, “We should be responsible for our own waste but not for somebody else’s.”

But what would happen if we did accept responsibility for our own wastes? Well, in the 30 or so states with nuclear reactors, residents would suddenly realize that they couldn’t assume someone else was going to take their radioactive garbage off their hands. We might see a widespread movement to close down nuclear plants. Which is probably why Congress is unwilling to delegate authority to communities over this issue.

Withregard to solid waste, allowing counties and states to say no to someone else’s garbage would accelerate the move toward reduce, reuse and recycle. All worthwhile strategies and all of which, intriguingly, move us toward a more decentralized economy.

Let’s take our small is beautiful template and examine the financial sector.

Rightnow a war is going on between banks and credit unions. Two issues are on the table: the tax exemption given to credit unions and the ability of credit unions to have members from many different organizations, thus allowing them to grow very large.

The battle is being waged by large credit unions against large banks, although each argues that they are doing this on behalf of small credit unions and community banks. This makes for a very confusing situation. But if we were to use a Schumacherian perspective, we might end up with this position. We support rules that firmly root banks in the community they serve. That means we support rules that encourage locally owned and operated banks and locally owned and operated credit unions. This means that, in the banking sector, we would revisit rules that allow for interstate banking and mergers. It means that we support incentives for credit unions because, being owned by their depositors, they are less likely to be purchased by absentee owners.

Fromgarbage and banking, let’s turn to an entirely different sector with our community-matters template: professional sports. Most people, when they pick up the newspaper, don’t read the front page. They read the comics, the gossip section, and the sports section. Today sports news has become front page news because more than 50 million Americans are living in and around cities which are being held blackmail by professional sports team owners. These owners are threatening to move their teams to another community if the local taxpayers don’t build them a new stadium replete with skyboxes and luxurious concession areas.

Ownersused to insist that their teams provided economic benefit for the town. They don’t anymore because studies clearly show that sports teams simply shift local spending around. Money spent at the ballpark is not spent at the local bar or bowling alley or movie theater.

Havingfailed to make the economic case, owners now argue for local subsidies because of the psychological benefit of professional sports. Here they are on stronger ground. Rooting for the local sports teams does help to tie a community together. Following the play of the local sports team is one of the few activities that old and young, black and white, rich and poor share.

But when the owners ask the community to pay them two to three times what the team is worth on the open market simply to keep the team around for another 10-20 years, increasing numbers of people ask, “Why not own the team outright?”

Communityownership of sports teams has a long and successful pedigree. The Green Bay Packers have been owned by their fans since 1923, and have won several Super Bowls since then. A dozen minor league baseball teams and several profitable Canadian professional football teams are also owned by their communities.

With this wealth of successful experience, why aren’t more communities deciding to buy their own teams? Because it is illegal. All professional sports teams formally or informally prohibit the fans from owning their teams.

Welet them adopt that rule; we can demand that they drop it. Indeed, a bill in Congress would require sports team owners to allow their fans to own the teams, or to suffer the loss of their antitrust exemption that allows them to negotiate as one entity with the media.

Oncewe use our imagination to design rules that allow our communities to regain a sense of authority and responsibility, dozens of possibilities occur, Consider, the struggle over so-called big box retail. Hundreds of communities are battling over the siting of a 200,000 square foot Wal Mart or KMart or Home Depot. Those in favor of these stores argue that they carry a wider selection and offer lower prices than smaller local stores. Those against argue that they suck money from the local economy and undermine Main Street. This issue is being debated at the local level because in this sector communities do have the power to say yes or no, through a vote of the Zoning Board or the Planning Commission or the County Council or directly by the voters. This is democracy at its best.

Some communities have established size limits on retail stores. Others have developed a process whereby large developments are reviewed with an eye on how they will affect the fabric of local business. Vermont established a citizens board to review all developments over 10 acres. Recently the Board rejected an application from a Wal Mart. The Board concluded that Wal Mart would actually cost the region $3 for every $1 dollar it saved the area. Wal Mart took the state to court, arguing that it had no right to reject a development simply because it harmed local businesses. The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that states and through them, communities do indeed have that authority.

Inthe 1920s and 1930s, states fashioned another type of tool to encourage local ownership. These were called branch store taxes.

Thesetaxes increased in proportion to the increase in the number of branches in a business chain. The feeling was that as a corporation opened more and more branches, it increasingly distanced itself from its customers, while at the same time acquiring more and more economic as well as political clout in the state legislatures and the local city councils. The tax imposed a penalty on concentrated power and the separation of the business owner from the community served.

Oncewe think that community is important, we will have to revisit many of our most cherished regulatory notions. For example, consider the way we approach the government exercise of eminent domain, that is, the authority to seize property for public purposes. When government exercises its right of eminent domain, the owner whose property is seized must be compensated. They are paid the market value. Two identical houses located on the same street will fetch the same compensation. But what if we took into account not only the market value of the house but the social value of the house? What if we took into account the value of rootedness and continuity and community and neighborhood in our calculations?

Let’s say that one of the houses has been owned and occupied by the same family for three generations. The people who live there know everybody in the neighborhood, know the history of the neighborhood, indeed, represent a vital part of the local civic society. And let’s say that the owner of the other house bought it only months before, and the tenant is new.

Thefair market value of both houses is identical. But clearly their real value to the community is quite different. What if we enacted a measure that offered the owner of the second house the fair market value but gave the owner, or occupant, of the first house a premium over and above the market value based on the number of years of occupancy–say an additional 25 percent for every ten years of ownership?

Thismeasure would achieve three objectives. First, it would value community and compensate those for whom dislocation would create a special hardship. Second, by raising the cost of dislocation it might alter the cost-benefit equation against the proposed development. Third, it would value occupancy over ownership, leading to a better equitable result. The owner of a home would receive the fair market value but the resident who lived in the house for many years would also receive significant compensation.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance we use community as an end that can inform policies in many sectors. Today we are making new rules that affect virtually all facets of our society – communications, finance, transportation, energy, education. But tragically, at the rulemaking table community is not represented.

Community is an issue that joins the right and the left, liberals and conservatives. It is a word they all embrace lovingly. But too often their definition of the term is loose and vague, fuzzy and warm. We need to transform it into a more concrete and powerful word.

Conservatives talk about devolving and decentralizing responsibility to the local level. That isan important goal. Communities and households and individuals should become more responsible for themselves. But we should also devolve authority to the local level. And we should apply the concept of devolution to the economic as well as the political spheres. We must democratize productive capacity as well as decentralize responsibility. Unless these three factors are present-authority, responsibility, capacity–we’re not proposing a coherent strategy that can build strong, self-reliant and enduring communities.

Whenwe do decentralize authority, when we do begin to move responsibility and authority close together, when we do begin to make those who make the decisions synonymous with those who feel the impact of those decisions, when we do decentralize productive capacity, then we begin to view ourselves differently and we begin to act differently.

Considerthe case of the Carrington, North Dakota pasta cooperative, This enterprise became the first cooperative to join the National Pasta Processors Association. In the North American Free Trade Agreement(NAFTA) debate, pasta processors on both sides of the border favored the agreement because it would lower the price of the durum wheat they purchased. There was only one processor in the National Pasta Processors Association that opposed NAFTA, and that was the Carrington Pasta Cooperative, because there the growers of the wheat also owned the processing plant. They weren’t interested in reducing the price of wheat so long as the price was comparable on both sides of the border. Because they were the processors as well as the producers, they thought differently about themselves.

Minnesotahas what may be the largest number of employee owned plants, per capita, of any place in the country. Where they are majority owned they tend to use a very different cost-benefit analysis regarding business investment decisions than when absentee owners control the decision making process. Several CEOs of these plants have said to the press,”We probably would have moved out of Minnesota because of the high business taxes here, except for the fact that we are employee-owned.”

Absenteeowners try to maximize their return on investment and if they can make a higher return by closing a plant in one place and reopening it in another, they will do so, even if the first plant is generating a profit. But employee owners take into account the effect of plant relocation on their jobs, and on the taxes that pay for their children’s schools and their police and fire protection. Employee owned plants must operate in an increasingly competitive and even brutal market place. They must generate a profit or they will be forced to close their doors. But the need to survive can co-exist with the need to remain rooted when the workers own the plant.

Weare living through an historical moment in which the vision and the values of Fritz Schumacher and Peter Kropotkin and Louis Brandeis and Ralph Borsodi should be translated into practical political programs and policies. Anyone who delivers a lecture these days tells audiences that we are living in a time of great change. I am no different. But I would remind you of the distinction Bertrand Russell once made about the difference between change and progress.

Changeis inevitable, Russell observed, whereas progress is problematic. Change is scientific while progress is ethical. We will have change whether we want it or not, but to achieve progress we have to get involved. We have to create new rules. We have to channel human creativity in directions compatible with our value system. And to accomplish that we have to know where we want to go.

Schumachertaught us that local self-reliance and humanly scaled systems and a shortening of the distance between those who make the decisions and those who feel the impact of those decisions are goals that are achievable, effective and popular. Today more than at any time in our history, we need to let his wisdom guide us.

Thank you.

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David Morris
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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.

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